Make Pasture Fertilizing Pay

Make Pasture Fertilizing Pay

March 21, 2008

Spring is approaching and cool-season grass pastures soon will green-up. As with other crops, grass growth is stimulated by fertilizer. With nitrogen fertilizer costing over 60 cents per pound this spring, though, producers may be asking whether it pays to fertilize pasture.

Our Nebraska research shows that you get one pound of additional calf or yearling gain for every pound of nitrogen fertilizer applied. However, this fertilization rule-of-thumb assumes that the amount applied is within our general recommendations, which are based on the potential amount of extra grass growth expected. This is affected mostly by moisture. It also assumes that your grazing management will efficiently harvest this extra growth.

If you fertilize pasture in spring and then let animals graze continuously on one pasture throughout the season, much of the extra growth is wasted. They trample, manure and foul, bed down on, and simply refuse to eat much of the grass. Eventually, less than one-third of the extra grass ends up inside your livestock.

To make fertilizer pay, manage grazing so more of what you grow actually gets eaten. Subdivide pastures with some cross-fences and control when and where your animals graze. Give animals access to no more than one-fourth of your pasture at a time, and preferably less. Then graze off about one-half of the growth before moving to another subdivision. If your pastures aren't already subdivided into at least four paddocks, your fertilizer dollar might be better spent on developing more cross-fences and watering sites.

Follow these suggestions and more of your pasture growth will be eaten and you're likely to get more profits from your efforts.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist