Pasture condition scoring helps in hay production

A guide to pasture condition scoring was among the topics at the Quality Hay Management Alternatives Field Tour held recently at the Gordon Raley farm in Franklin Parish, La.

The tour was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter’s Macon Ridge Research Station in Winnsboro, La.

Pasture condition scoring is a systematic way to check how well a pasture is managed. A well-managed pasture is one in which productivity is optimized with no harm to soil, water and air quality, said Johanna Pate, coordinator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Louisiana Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative.

By rating key indicators and causative factors common to all pastures, condition can be evaluated and the primary reasons for a low condition score identified, she said. Conditions that can lead to pasture resource concerns include poor plant growth, weedy species invasion, poor animal performance, soil loss and increased runoff.

Pasture condition scoring should occur several times a year during critical management periods throughout the grazing season, Pate said. Indicators receiving the lowest scores can be targeted for corrective action as warranted.

“We write a prescription of what you need to do,” said Pate, who explained that the district conservationist completes the score evaluation with the producer and makes recommendations.

Other topics on the program, attended by 35 people, included soil sampling and precision agriculture for livestock and hay producers.

The LSU AgCenter offers soil testing through its Plant Analysis Laboratory, including fertilizer recommendations to meet planting needs for profitable production, said R.L. Frazier, county agent in West Carroll, La.

“Proper fertilization of forage enhances its nutritive value to cattle,” Frazier said. “The $7 charge for a soil sample is the cheapest investment you can make. I encourage you to get a soil sample.”

Sample boxes are available from LSU AgCenter county agents.

Frazier explained where to take representative samples and the depth needed.

“Dump it in a bucket and mix thoroughly,” he said. “A 5-gallon bucket is the best friend a farmer has.”

Raley, who has been the Louisiana Forage and Grassland Council hay show winner for the past two years, explained how GPS surveys have saved him money. He uses GPS for application of fertilizers to guarantee optimal spreading with less overlap and exact distribution.

“There is a market out there right now,” Raley said. “If you put in quality hay, people will find you.”

Other sponsors of the field day were the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Northeast Delta Resource Conservation and Development, one of the seven U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development programs administered by NRCS in Louisiana to develop an action plan for the social, economic and environmental enrichment of communities.

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