Pastures across Nebraska are starting to see new growth, but last year's drought have caused damage that will take a while to recover from.
According to Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, those drought-weakened pastures are not going to be able to feed animals being put out to graze without causing further damage to the land.
However, Anderson says there are ways to compensate for the loss and to help pastures recover.
Anderson suggests waiting 10 to 14 days later to let animals out for grazing. Feeding on leftover hay or other forages from winter for this extra time will give permanent pastures much needed recovery time.
He says that the plants can't begin to recover until after they've started to grow and adding extra stress may slow that process down.
"Pastures might be green and growing, but their ability to handle further stress has lessened," he said.
Planting annual forages also can help relieve some of the pressure on stressed pastures and forage supplies. The drought severely depleted hay supplies last year, so planting oats, grasses and millets can compensate for some of that problem.
"These annuals can be very productive in terms of the amount of forage they produce to rebuild that hay supply," Anderson said.
Anderson warns that even following these suggestions, producers should be cautious. He shares that producers should be careful not to overstock stressed packages.
He also shared that the weakened pastures are more likely to fall victim to noxious weeds such as thistle and leafy spurge. "Weeds are a natural outcome when competitive ability of the plants is lowered," Anderson said. "Weeds become more opportunistic with less competition, so it's important to get them under control while patches are still small."
Additionally, Anderson said that with the recent rain some pastures might hold an opportunity for fertilizer. He said application will not be appropriate in all fields, but it might stimulate growth in others. In pastures that have enough moisture in normal years, fertilizer will help take advantage of existing rain moisture to help pastures recover.
For more information for the University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, go to ianr.unl.edu.