Dry grassland

First Aid for dry pastures

The drought and the warm summer weather cause damage to your grassland. Decrease in forage quality is the result, because weeds and bad grasses take the chance to establish themselves in your grassland.

 

What steps can you take to protect your pastures from the ravages of drought?

Give grass a chance to survive drought by delaying cutting
Cutting during periods of drought can seriously damage your grass. If there is less than 20 centimetres of grass (2000 kg per ha), it is best to delay cutting. After cutting, grass plants use their reserves to create new blades of grass. However, in periods of drought, the grass plant needs these reserves simply to survive. In addition, traffic on the pasture will severely burden the sward and leave tracks that are visible for a long time. If you do decide to cut, do not cut the grass shorter than 7 centimetres.

 Let the cattle graze occasionally
Allowing cattle occasional access to the pasture during periods of drought will aid its recovery. If your herd is allowed to graze during the evening this will benefit the grass. Keep a close eye on the bodily condition of cattle that is exclusively grazed (young stock). Due to the poor supplies of grass they can quickly start to lose weight.

Has your grass survived the drought?
Grass can survive periods of drought. You can easily check if your grass has survived.

  1. Dig out a section of sward measuring 20 x 20 cm.
  2. Put it in a water-filled bucket and allow the section of sward to completely saturate.
  3. Let the water run out of the bucket, leaving the grass clump behind.
  4. If white underground roots, or green points in the grass, appear within a few days, you can be sure the pasture will recover after the drought.  If not, your pasture will probably fail to recover. The only option left to guarantee supplies of forage is to renew your pasture.

Watch out for roughstalk bluegrass
If new plants with a white base start to grow in in the section of sward you cut away, watch out. There is a high risk of roughstalk bluegrass and annual meadow grass developing in your pasture. Regularly harrowing the pasture is a way to control roughstalk bluegrass growth.

Uitsteken_zode

 

Reseeding new grass
If you can no longer save your pasture, then reseeding with new grass is the only resort. For the best results, it is vital to eliminate all couch grasses and weeds first. After ten days, you can till the soil and reseed the field.

Read more about managing your (new) grassland

Drought resistant
During periods of drought there are visible differences between the various species of grass. Poor grasses, such as roughstalk bluegrass, are the first to suffer. Perennial ryegrass has longer roots, but we are noticing that this grass species is also having a hard time at many places in Europe. Of all the grasses, soft-leaf tall fescue (NutriFibre) offers the best resistance to drought. It has roots that penetrate the soil up to a depth of one metre and produces good quality forage despite the dry weather. 

Read more about soft-leaf tall fescue (NutriFibre)

Watch out for nitrate poisoning
Mineralisation and unused fertilisers lead to high nitrogen levels in the soil during summer months. This can result in grass with a (too) high protein content or too much nitrate. Do not feed your cattle too much of this grass. Supplementing their ration with fodder maize or other feed is the best option. In the extremely dry summer of 1976, nitrate poisoning caused a high death rate among cattle. One of the symptoms of nitrate poisoning is a brown vulva (just below the tail).