Cows and bulls are out to pasture. Winter feeding areas are mostly empty. This is a good time to manage those empty lots and winter pastures. Mary Keena, NDSU Extension Specialist and Penny Nester, NDSU Extension Agent/Bowman County have a few tips for you.
Summer Management of Your Winter-Feeding Area
Whether farms have cattle, horses, sheep or goats, summer management of the winter-feeding area is important.
Most of the management in your winter-feeding area, whether that be corrals or a specific area of a field, begins with manure. While summer tasks and activities often take precedence this time of year, equally important is looking back on what went wrong with your facilities last winter and making note of what needs maintenance this summer.
An easy place to start is pushing up manure in the winter-feeding areas. Making stockpiles of manure allows the pen or field surface to dry. Stockpiling also allows the manure to start heating, which will reduce total volume and total loads hauled.
If you are interested in composting livestock manure, you will see an even greater volume reduction than merely stockpiling, as well as gaining the benefit of a reducing the number of internal and external parasites, pathogens, and weed seeds. You can accomplish this by turning manure every 10-14 days while maintaining 50 percent moisture. Learn more about composting in the NDSU Extension publication NM1478, “Composting Animal Manures: A guide to the process and management of animal manure compost.”
If you still have animals in your winter-feeding areas, fly control via manure management is also important. Flies lay their eggs in the top few inches of manure and the eggs can hatch every seven days. By pushing the manure into a pile and turning the piles, you can compost manure and stay ahead of the fly cycle.
Often the nutrients from manure can fertilize undesirable weeds in your feeding areas. If the weeds have already gotten away from you, there are management strategies to reduce weed population and spread.
Repeated mowing reduces weeds’ competitive ability, depletes carbohydrate reserves in their roots, and reduces seed production. Mowing can kill or suppress annual and biennial weeds. It can also suppress perennials and help restrict their spread.
A single mowing will not satisfactorily control most weeds. However, mowing three or four times per year over several years can greatly reduce and occasionally eliminate certain weeds. Mowing along fences and borders can help prevent the introduction of new weed seeds. Regular mowing helps prevent weeds from establishing, spreading, and competing with desirable grasses and legumes.
Another option for weed control is to apply herbicides. It is best to apply herbicides to weeds that are still young because they will absorb the chemicals more effectively than their mature counterparts. Herbicide can also be effective to treat actively growing weeds in the weeks following mowing.
Ideal temperatures for applying most herbicides are between 65 and 85 degrees F. Avoid applying volatile herbicides such as 2,4-D ester, MCPA ester and dicamba during hot weather, especially near susceptible broadleaf crops, shelterbelts, or farmsteads.
Cleaning pen and field surfaces is a great time for reflection of the past season. What worked? What didn’t? What do you need to fix, change or maintain now to make the next winter-feeding season successful? A couple things to keep in mind from a maintenance standpoint include:
- The “winter” season started in October 2022 for some animal owners and lasted through May 2023. How are you doing? While cussing and a cold brew will sometimes do, it is also okay to look into our “Coping with Stress” resources here: https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/ag-hub/ag-topics/farm-safety-health/managing-stress/coping-stress. Sometimes we need the help, and sometimes we are the help. Either way, a refresher glance is good practice.
- How do your fences look? Did you get too close with the loader bucket while removing snow from the feeding area?
- Did your watering system work during the winter-feeding period or are there things you need to change or fix to avoid leaking or freeze-ups?
- Speaking of water, what do pen surfaces look like, from a levelness standpoint? Are there holes that need to be filled from digging a little too deep into what you thought was frozen ground? Are there areas holding water right now? Gravel and clay are commonly used to backfill these areas and regain proper slope and drainage in the pen.