Mazimizing Efficiency of Fertilizing Pastures

Mazimizing Efficiency of Fertilizing Pastures

April 3, 2009

Nitrogen fertilizer prices are down a bit from last year, but still high, making this a good time to review and possibly revamp your fertilizer strategy to make sure you're getting the most efficiency and benefit.

Time your pasture fertilization this spring so you don't have more growth than your cows can eat.

You might even save some money.

After adding 100 lb, 60 lb, or even 40 lb of nitrogen per acre to your pastures in past years, did your grass grow really well in April and May then get stemmy in June? By August was most of the grass brown or dead and matted down with the only green material so short that cows could barely get any of it?

If this describes your pastures, do something a little different this year. For starters, don't fertilize all your pasture right away. You're stimulating more spring growth than your cows can eat. Fertilize half or three-quarters of your pasture now and fence off the remaining area.

Now, go ahead and have your cows graze as they normally would, but be sure to graze the unfertilized area so they're finished with it before mid May.

Then check the weather and soil moisture. If you think there will be enough moisture for some good regrowth, fertilize thepreviously unfertilized area. Let it regrow for six weeks or longer and you should have some really good grazing available for July or August.

If it's dry in mid May with poor prospects for regrowth, save your money and don't apply any more fertilizer. You still will have produced about as much pasture growth as if you had fertilized everything to begin with, but without spending as much.

If your pastures are overgrown in spring and run out in summer every year, change the timing of your fertilizer application. You'll get more grass when you want it and may save some money.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist