Why Am I Mowing Pastures: Part 2

Why do livestock producers mow pastures? As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, today I’ll let Jesse Bussard, a graduate student at Kentucky, do a little explaining of cleaning pastures from a forage perspective. Thanks Jesse for helping out!

I was posed the question, “Why do we brush hog (mow) pastures?” by Ryan this past week.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term “brush hog” I’ll fill you in.  A brushhog is just another name for a rotary mower that is mounted on the back of a tractor, most times powered by a power take off (PTO).

Most people have experience mowing their yards to maintain them for aesthetic reasons.  Sometimes it is the same with mowing pastures, but most times it is for a far more important reason, to provide high quality forage for livestock.

mowing pastures mechanical weed control livestock fields
Brush hogging is a form of mechanical weed control for overgrown, unpalatable forages in pastures.

Livestock producers’ main goal in pasture management is to maintain forage quality to support a desired level of gain in their animals.  Forages are the foundation on which animal performance and farm profitability are built upon.  Without a well-maintained, healthy forage stand the genetic potential of the livestock cannot be realized.

When deciding to mow several factors must be taken into consideration with respect to the area to be mowed including timing, pattern, frequency, and height.  These factors will change with the types of forages present and the particular motive for mowing.

Mowing is important to a pasture management plan for the following reasons:

  • Weed management
  • Maintaining forage quality
  • Reduce grazing patterns

Weed management

According to the Penn State Agronomy Guide, repeated mowings reduce weeds’ competitive ability, deplete carbohydrate reserves in the roots, and prevent seed production.  Since mowing prevents seed production, weeds are maintained in a more vegetative state, making some more palatable to livestock.  Depletion of carbohydrate reserves by mowing can be an effective method of controlling or suppressing annual and biennial weeds and also restrict the spread of some perennial weeds.

An important thing to remember though is that a single mowing isn’t going to get the job done.  A series of mowing, sometimes three to four, over several years will greatly reduce and can occasionally eliminate certain weeds, such as Canada thistle.

Maintaining forage quality

Mowing pastures promotes forages to remain in a vegetative state by not allowing the plant to reach a reproductive state.  This allows nutrients to be focused on vegetative growth, increasing forage quality, instead of toward seed production.  Care should be taken to maintain a proper cutting height when which will ensure there is adequate leaf area and left so that the plant is able to produce energy for vigorous regrowth.  Cutting too close can stress plants, depleting energy reserves, and eventually may lead to plant death.  Optimal cutting heights for cool season forages is approximately 2-4 inches and for warm season forages is 6-8 inches.

Reducing grazing patterns

Livestock have a tendency to graze in patterns.  These patterns lead to formation of uneven patches of forage in pastures.  My old college adviser at Penn State University used to call this phenomenon in horse pastures the “lawns and the ruffs.”  These “lawns” are areas of desirable forage while the “ruffs” are areas of forage that have not been grazed.  “Ruffs” form for many reasons, sometimes it may be because it is located near a manure or urine spot, or other times it may just be because the forage is unpalatable.  By clipping taller plants that animals leave behind the grazing pattern is reduce and a more uniform stand of forage is maintained.

These are just a few of many reasons why livestock producers mow pastures.  What are some other reasons you think livestock producers would use mowing in forage management?  How do you manage you pastures to maintain quality forage?

Be sure to visit Jesse Bussard’s blog Pearl Snap Ponderings where she frequently posts about forage management including a weekly Weedy Wednesday post. She is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky studying forage crops and livestock grazing systems. Jesse is a native of Pennsylvania.

Ryan Goodman works in grassroots advocacy with beef cattle farmers and ranchers across the United States. He is a proud alumnus of Oklahoma State University, with studies focusing on cattle reproduction and nutrition. Ryans
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