Winter pastures are an integral part of many cow/calf operations in South Dakota, providing valuable grazing along with protection from seasonal weather. Many ranchers defer grazing these special pastures during the growing season in order to protect production, says Extension cow/calf Field Specialist Robin Salverson, during a recent iGrow Radio interview.
 
"A lot of people think they should only graze them during the winter and only in the winter, and in reality, grazing them early in the growing season does not affect production for future growth," Salverson said.
 
A three-year research study conducted at Western South Dakota experiment stations, indicates grazing cool season winter pastures in early spring can actually boost production, as clipping stimulates future growth.
 
"We have healthy root structures which allows for the grass to grow and take in nutrients and allows them to have production later in the growing season," she said.
 
Salverson advises grazing winter pastures for a short time only in early May, allowing livestock to clip the top third of the grass plant.
 
"Get them on there and graze it so only the top half of the forage is grazed off and then remove those cows," Salverson said.
 
Producers need to be cautious about grazing later in the spring and summer because it can limit future production.
 
"If you get too late into the season you are going to impact production later," Salverson said.
 
To prevent this, Salverson encourages ranchers to limit spring utilization to about 25 percent.
 
For more information on this topic, visit iGrow.org.