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Pasture and cattle management strategies for a successful summer grazing season 

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Efficient year-round cattle grazing is important for optimum cattle operation profitability and forage and cattle management strategies can lead to a successful summer grazing season.

“Proper management of cool season pastures and incorporation of summer annuals is key to a successful summer cattle grazing season,” University of Missouri Extension Regional Livestock Field Specialist Patrick Davis said. “Strive to keep cool season pastures vegetative.”  

During the grazing season, cool season grass heights should range between 4 to 8 inches.  During the summer months, cool season forages will sometimes exceed this range or seed heads will start to develop.  

Forage in this growth stage is low quality and will not provide optimum cattle grazing intake and performance.  

Davis urges cattle producers to clip or mow pastures that are too tall or if seed heads are emerging to reset the pastures which allows for high quality cool season forage regrowth.

“Rest period is also important for proper forage growth during the grazing season,” Davis said.  

Rest period allows forages to grow to optimum height prior to the next grazing period and gives plants the opportunity to replenish energy reserves. These two factors help ensure high forage intake and plant persistence.  

Davis urges cattle producers to develop a rotational grazing system in order to better manage the rest period.  

“Cattle producers may need longer rest periods in the summer months compared to the spring months for proper pasture regrowth,” Davis said. 

Crabgrass, pearl millet, and sudangrass are summer annuals that can be seeded now and grazed in the summer months to fill in the cool season grass slump.

“Seed summer annuals now to strengthen the summer grazing rotation,” Davis said.   

Davis urges cattle producers to checkout MU Extension Guide Sheet G4661 as well as visit with a local MU Extension agronomy field specialist to discuss proper seeding and establishment of these summer annuals. 

“Begin grazing crabgrass at 8 to 10 inches and don’t graze lower than 3 inches,” Davis said.  

Crabgrass can typically be grazed approximately 30 to 45 days after planting. 

“Begin grazing sudangrass at a height of greater than 24 inches to prevent prussic acid poisoning in cattle,” Davis said.  

Since pearl millet does not cause prussic acid poisoning in cattle, begin grazing it at a height range between 18 to 30 inches. Do not graze either of these forages below 10 inches. Both of these forages can typically be grazed 45 to 60 days after planting. 

“Nitrate toxicity can be an issue with sudangrass and pearl millet during summer drought,” Davis said.  

Contact a local MU Extension livestock regional field specialist for cattle and forage management strategies to reduce potential nitrate toxicity issues.

For more info or questions on how to manage a forage program for a successful summer cattle grazing season contact a local MU Extension Agronomy and Livestock Field Specialists.

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