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Pasture - best prep for winter?
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Chuck, WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 06:04:49       [Reply]  [No Email]
I posted this to the "Using your tractor and crop talk" board, but only got one reply that won't work for me. That was to let the fields be and burn them off and fertilize in the spring. I realize many of you browse many of the boards at YT, but am posting again in hopes of a more suitable solution.

I have two small fields of pasture grass that I hope to hay next year. One is established and in pretty good shape with a few small patches of foxtail. We mowed, raked and stacked that hay a couple of times this year since my baler wasn't ready for use.

The other larger field was cleared and replanted to a horse hay mix a year ago. We kept both fields mowed, fertilized and watered this year to try to establish a good turf and get rid of as many weeds as possible. This field has a mix of weeds, but scattered and not a lot other than scattered small patches of foxtail, but I suspect there is still a good bit of cheat grass that may just now be sprouting. We'll know on that before long.

Both fields are 8-12" right now as we let them grow in hopes of natural seeding of the "good" grasses.

Our climate here in the lower Columbia Basin in south-central Washington state is pretty mild and dry. We're more of less in a "bananna belt" area. We get a little snow but can go with none. Last year, we had enough to collect - less than an inch - a couple of times and temperatures were rarely as low as the teens, and not all that often below freezing - mid to high 30s most common, and when it got cold, usually high 20s. Predictions seem to be for a similar winter this year.

My question is, should I leave the grass long as it is, or should I cut it, and if cut it, how short? It's past time where we can hope to dry and rake it for hay, so unless we rake it green and just used it for mulch or put it on the compost pile, it will just lay on the field. My extansion agent says leave it at least 4" long, but doesn't give any maximum. My gut feel is take it down some, but leave it fairly long.

Any comments on this? What's the best thing to do?


rhudson    Posted 10-22-2003 at 11:39:43       [Reply]  [Send Email]
well being from southern virginia, our climate and grasses are different from your area. but i think its safe to say to match and modify the soil ph to the type of grasses you want to grow. its probably a good time of year to do that. its probably too late to worry about fetilizing, unless your soil is very clayey, it will leach away before the growing season starts next year. fires are great for killing weed seeds, but the libility is too high to consider it in my area. would you consider the use of 2-4-D herbicide next spring to knock down any broadleaf weeds? cheap and effective. why did i think it got colder than that in your area?

Chuck, WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 11:53:15       [Reply]  [No Email]
Thanks for the reply. We'll pass on the 2-4-D...trying to stay away from herbicides and pesticides for various reasons. However, I may give in and do a little spot spraying where ther eare particular problems. Got a good start of bindweed in a few places, and a little mallow that I might try 2-4-D on.

Most folks think Washington is green and lush, mountainous, and cold. We're east of the mountains with desert climate, and survive agriculturally with Columbia River irrigation for the fruit orchards, hay and veggies, wine grapes, and then a lot of dryland wheat. We get up to around 110 deg in the summer, but extremely low humidity. Winters can get cold, but not for extended periods. Have had a couple of winters in the past 40 years that got down around 25 below for a few days, but that's pretty rare. Generally, very nice place to live.

Thanks again for the reply.

ATW/WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 10:00:00       [Reply]  [Send Email]

I too am in the Columbia Basin, and Love it.

I would not be afraid to leave a pasture mix standing 8-12 inches tall. In fact I did just that in four of the last six years.

I had a renter, let cattle run a little too long a couple of years.

You will have a mix of cool and warm season grasses, to continue the growth through out the year. It will be important for that mix that you do not cut or pasture the growth too short. Any less than three or four inches and you will start to loose your perennial rye grass, orchard grass and some of the other grasses. What you will end up with is a really nice cool season growth of Bluegrass’s. Looks like a lawn but will not produce tonnage throughout the season. When it turns off hot in June and doesn't cool off until Sept. you need those warm season grasses.

Leaving the pasture as long as 12"-18", any snow/rain moisture was conserved, protected from solar/wind burn off. The stand of grass will also minimize any frost heave, acting as insulation against any repeated freeze-thaw cycle. Ask the dryland wheat ranchers about that one.

If you are worried about the carry over of the grasses inhibiting next years growth throw a couple of cattle on it late in spring, March/April. They will clear off last year’s growth, and drop some fertilizer for this year’s growth. Although burning has been practiced as a means of pasture management, in this day and age you can not afford the EPA fines. Ask several farmers around the Tri-Cites. With our mild seasons, it is difficult to build organic matter in the soil, I would rather return as much organic material as possible to the pasture, as I can.

Check with the county extension office, a couple of years ago they offered classes in pasture/hay management. It was a very good class.

While you are at the extension office pick up your copy of the "Site Soil Survey" (free to every landowner). You will probably need a hand in learning how to use it, but it should take no more than 10-15 minutes.


As always. any questions, comments or pics, please post back.


Chuck, WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 11:27:41       [Reply]  [No Email]
Alex...Great reply. That made my day!

My main concern was too heavy a mat of grass come spring, but hadn't thought of it providing a nice winter blanket. I had ruled out burning for that very reason, plus the fire danger by the tiem it is dry enough to burn.

If you're familiar with the Badger Canyon area, I'm located in Badger Canyon on the south edge, just below the canal at the foot of the Horseheaven's near where Dallas Road exists I-82.

Thanks very much for the reply!

ATW/WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 13:55:51       [Reply]  [Send Email]

I grew up on Rattlesnake Ridge, when to school there in Prosser, used to know most of the dryland farmers in both the Horse Heaven Hills and the Rattlesnake, Went to school with a lot of the people now involved in wine.

Looking to move back down to that end of the Basin.


Chuck, WA    Posted 10-23-2003 at 06:12:49       [Reply]  [No Email]
Alex...We moved here for the first time in '67, but moved away in '69. Our neighbors said a lot of folks who move away eventually come back. Not we thought. We swore we'd never move back. Never say never! We returned to stay in '83.

Back in '68-'69 I worked up at the observatory on Rattlesnake Mt. Some interesting stories about high winds, deep snow and watching auroras some nights. Lived in Richland until about two years ago when we moved out to Badger Canyon - love it!

I'd guess we know some folks in common. I'm involved in a Christian organization called Walk to Emmaus, and there are a lot of folks up the valley who I've met through that - Prosser, Grandview, Sunnyside, on up through Yakima - as well as many others throughout eastern WA. Lotsa farm and orchard folks - wonderful people! Also know folks in Prosser who come down here to attend my church in Richland. Bought my tractor from a fellow in my church named Wendell Weld from Prosser - retired school teacher who buys and reconditions tractors to sell.

Thanks again for your great reply to my question about wintering my fields. Not often when you connect back with somebody so close to home who has just the right experience to help out.

Y'all have a great day!

vadave    Posted 10-22-2003 at 07:50:02       [Reply]  [Send Email]
I used to live in the Edmonds area and yes you may be in a "banana" area but it still drizzles from September to May. I think 12 in is too long it will just lay down. I would suggest trimming it some and putting down a balanced fertlizer (10-10-10 or 15-15-15), maybe 30 lb to the acre. You want enough to promote root growth but not push the green. Then in the spring when it is waking up (March or April for you, I think) hit with more nitrogen. Course at that time the ground is really soft.

Chuck, WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 11:41:07       [Reply]  [No Email]
Dave...thanks for the reply. That's what I was worried about, but I think Alex (most recent reply) has me convinced to leave it long. I had just recently couple of weeks ago while we swtill had irrigation water to wash it in) fertilized with 16-16-16, and will probably hit it with 16-16-16 and 21-0-0 mixed at about 4:1 or so - just to enhance the nitrogen a bit.

BTW...Edmonds gets maybe 35-50 or more inches of rain a year, and we here in the TriCities get around 7. In fact, Seattle is getting flooded - 5" of rain in 24 hrs this past Monday.

Around here, winter is mostly gray skies promising rain, but never quite getting there. Our elevation of 325 ft. at Richland and maybe a hundred more at my place tends to keep the weather pretty moderate. Wake up time is about March, but we usually ahve a few days of shirt-sleeve weather in February to jump start, then followed with a few more weeks of cold before getting serious about spring - wreaks havoc with the orchardists when that warm spell gets the cherry trees to thinking it's spring! :)

Thanks again!

RichZ    Posted 10-22-2003 at 07:40:25       [Reply]  [Send Email]
Part of my hayfield has always been very weedy, but I don't like to use pesticides. This year I kept it brush hogged all year. I kept it about 4 inches high all year, hoping to not let the weeds develop seed, but letting it stay high enough for the grass to seed itself.

Well, it seems to have improved this area greatly. The grass is much thicker, and it has considerably less weeds. I'll probably brush hog it one more time this year, as the grass is still growing. Then in a few weeks, I will spread composted horse manure over the whole field. I spread the composted manure ever fall and spring, and I don't put anything else on the hayfield. Theoretically, composting horse manure gets it hot enough to kill the weed seeds. I believe that this is true, because the manure gets extremely hot when composted.

I hope this helps.

Chuck, WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 11:46:51       [Reply]  [No Email]
Rich...thanks for the reply. Sounds about like me - we choose to not use herbicides/pesticides other than poison bait for gophers - but haven't had a good source of composted horse manure. We put raw horse manure on the first year plus, but think it may be too much of a source of weeds, so have stopped and will start in the spring with composted that we've now found a source for. Like you, we've tried to improve it by mowing, water and fertilier, and it's actually looking very good.

Thanks again for your reply.

bulldinkie    Posted 10-22-2003 at 11:46:50       [Reply]  [Send Email]
My husband took a course on pasture management. They recommend mowing in fall,then take tractor with something dragging beind skid etc to break up manure piles. Then is good time for lime & ammendments.when you move animals from field to field that helps.We raise texas Longhorn cattle,horses,mini donkeys.

RichZ    Posted 10-22-2003 at 12:05:37       [Reply]  [Send Email]
Bulldinkie, in my hayfields, I spread composted horse manure with a manure spreader. In my pasture, I use a landscape rake behind one of my tractors to break up piles of horse and goat manure and spread it evenly, which is basically what you've said. Luckily, I've never needed to add lime to my pastures or hayfields.

Chuck, WA    Posted 10-22-2003 at 12:00:18       [Reply]  [No Email] there's a handle...must be a story behind that one! :)

Thanks for the reply. For starters, no cows, horses, llamas, sheep, goats, or other grazing animals. We're mostly maintaining the fields to harvest a little grass hay for friends to keep me busy when I retire in a few years, and for the long term, as an investment so that when the time comes that we can't maintain it any longer, it will be attractive horse property for somebody else.

So, no need to drag since we didn't put on a lot of horse manure this year. Animal management isn't part of the plan at this point - other than managing the gopher population. Could borrow a few critters, but we aren't adequately fenced for that.

Thanks again for replying.

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