Many cattle producers in our area try to take advantage of winter grazing. The cool season grasses and clovers can provide excellent quality grazing if well managed.
One of the first problems we are going to have is farmers turning the cattle in too soon. Limited grazing can begin as soon as the plants are well established and have four or more inches of growth. Grazing prior to this time may result in the plants being pulled up roots and all.
Grazing as early as possible is important because it will cause the grasses to stool and form a denser sod. When mixtures contain both small grains and clover, early season management is particularly important. The small grains will germinate, emerge and grow faster in fall than will the clovers. After the grasses are established they should be grazed to maintain a 3- to 5-inch stubble height to avoid shading out the clover. Maintaining small grain stands at 10-12 inches will seriously reduce clover stands and subsequent production.
During mid-winter the major problem is to avoid severe overgrazing which can weaken stands and reduce late spring production. As growth conditions become unfavorable during cold weather, farmers will need to be very careful to avoid overgrazing. The additional supplemental feed needed to make it through this period of slow growth will be repaid by increased spring production. Make every effort to manage grazing pressure to allow the forage to regrow to 3 to 4 inches before grazing heavily in order to avoid reducing spring growth.
During spring when soil and air temperatures begin to increase, forage growth accelerates. Don't forget to use trace minerals containing magnesium in order to prevent grass tetany. The major objective during this period is to manage for forage quality. Grasses and clovers should be grazed fairly close to keep them in the vegetative stage of growth. If they are allowed to mature, forage quality declines rapidly and animal performance will be reduced. Being optimistic, it may be necessary to restrict animals to a portion of the pasture to accomplish this goal. Excess forage growth can be harvested for hay or silage.