Spring Transition in Our Pastures

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Traveling around the county recently, one can’t help but notice that spring is in full swing with many pastures looking great. 

It truly is the best time of the year for pastures. Clover and ryegrass are in full swing.  You can stock your pasture at the highest stocking rate at this time of year. More than you can any other time of the year. 

But let’s fast forward several weeks to warmer temperatures where the summer grasses really take off.  There is a potential conflict for some in the transition from cool-season pastures to summer pastures. One of the “good” problems to have is dealing with excess ryegrass as you transition into summer.

Ryegrass can be a nutritious and productive forage. It can be of great benefit to the stockman.  Annual ryegrass is a winter annual bunch-grass that originated from Europe.   It should not be confused with rye (the grain) or perennial ryegrass used on many athletic fields. 

Beef producers typically broadcast ryegrass seed in the fall on summer pastures that have been recently grazed short to allow the seed to have contact with the soil.   A seedling rate of 10 to 15 lbs. per acre in early to mid-October is generally the best.  Any amount of disking or other soil preparation will certainly increase ryegrass germination, but excessive soil preparation will also encourage weeds.

Ryegrass initially has a slower rate of growth than grains such as wheat, rye and oats. But unlike the larger seeded grains, its ease of sowing and lower cost of equipment needed make it very desirable.  Larger grain seed must be drilled into the sod rather than simply broadcast and requires more costly equipment. Additionally, ryegrass tolerates many of the lower acidity soils in our area but responds well to nitrogen. 

In the lower Gulf coast region, grazing can begin as early as November, but livestock are typically turned in on ryegrass pasture in mid-January to February in our area.

The only “problem” with ryegrass is that it doesn’t know when to get out of the way and let summer grasses come on.  This late spring and potentially early summer growth of ryegrass is enough for some beef producers to shy away from using it. 

Some claim ryegrass kills the Bahia or Bermuda grass pastures.  In truth, it doesn’t try and kill it outright, but can certainly smother it if is left too tall.  Just imagine an emerging leaf of a summer grass trying to compete with the 16 inch tall ryegrass that is blocking all the sunlight!

To overcome losing summer pasture grasses to excess ryegrass, consider the following management strategies.  First, stock correctly.  Put the number of livestock on a given pasture that can consume it.  Un-grazed pasture is wasted money.  Secondly, consider baling it up.  Even ryegrass, if properly cured and then stored in a barn, would make excellent hay.  The key is curing it during wetter weather and storing it well as it is a finer grass.

So, let’s enjoy the lush pastures that we currently have. Let us remember the complexities of stocking rates, forage varieties, and pasture management faced by stockmen – some of our finest stewards of the land.

Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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