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Muddy Pasture

Cattle stand in mud at a feeder in a pasture in Saline County.

Illinois cattle producers are having to deal with some poor pasture conditions as they move into spring.

“Pastures are looking a little rough right now because of compaction,” said University of Illinois Extension beef educator Teresa Steckler. “Guys are having to keep (cattle) out on pasture because they don’t have any place else to put them. Pastures are eaten down pretty far. A lot of them I see are in very tough shape.”

Chuck Weilmuenster, who raises cattle near Anna, Illinois, in Union County, has experienced problems associated with muddy conditions. His tractor got stuck while he was trying to load hay into a feeder.

“Where I was last year, I didn’t have any trouble,” Weilmuenster said. “This year, at the same spot, I was putting hay on, and I started sliding down the hill.”

He dropped the bale off the front end of the tractor, thinking that would provide a little more traction.

“It didn’t,” he said. “I had to call a wrecker. Between the wrecker cable and a 70-foot log chain a neighbor had, we were able to winch it out.”

Not risking a repeat, he resorted to flipping bales over the fence directly onto the field.

University of Illinois Extension beef educator Travis Meteer sees positives and negatives in regard to Illinois pasture conditions.

“If we can get some heat and sunshine once we get into spring, moisture is not going to be a limiting factor. That’s the good part,” he said. “The bad part is cows that have been left out on pasture have definitely mucked them up pretty bad. It’s wet and muddy, and we haven’t stayed frozen for any period of time.

“We’ve gotten frozen and thawed out. In southern Illinois, we may not even have had much freeze. So in that area of the state we’ve definitely messed up the pasture.”

A dry period in southern Illinois last fall exacerbated pasture problems.

“They’re going to want to let their cattle out early because they may be running out of hay because they had to start feeding early because of the mini-drought we had last fall,” Steckler said. “Guys started feeding hay early, and pastures got grazed down. Last year we had a very cool spring and pastures didn’t grow well. It was a snowball effect.”

Cattle and hay producers may need to do some maintenance to get their pastures back in shape.

“Hopefully they are cross- seeding right now to at least get some legumes going,” Steckler said. “They may need to go in and till them. The problem is, they have to let that pasture grass get up to a decent size so the roots will have an opportunity to take hold. If you let cattle out too soon, they’re going to pull it up.”

Meteer agrees.

“The problem is, if we’ve roughed them up with the cows walking around in these muddy conditions, no doubt we’ve reduced the stand of that grass and that forage,” he said. “So we may need to intervene with some over-seeding or something to make sure we don’t have an abundance of weed pressure in those open areas.

“If cows are still running out there, we can have some issues in terms of low level in those fields. In those high-traffic areas, maybe around hay feeders, we’ve seen some issues. In most cases, that’s just in the upper 6 to 8 inches of soil. We can go in there with a tillage pass and remedy a lot of that pretty quick, just resurface some of those areas.”

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Nat Williams writes for Illinois Farmer Today, a Lee Enterprises sister publication of The Southern.

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