To Clip or Not to Clip
Clipping pastures can be an important piece of pasture management. Some management systems do not require clipping, while others can benefit from proper clipping at the right time of year. So the question becomes to clip or not to clip?
Pros of Clipping Pastures
Increased Forage Quality and Production- As pasture species, grasses specifically, move through their lifecycle, their normal process is to switch from vegetative growth to reproductive growth at a designated time. This is where seed heads come into play. Grasses slow the growth of leaves and new shoots and they switch to putting energy into creating seed. Clipping those seed heads sends the plant back into a vegetative state creating increased growth of the good stuff that livestock want instead of stemmy material. Setting the plant back into vegetative state also increases overall production by inducing the vegetative growth
The timing of when to clip for grasses would be anytime after the boot stage. Clipping before the boot stage would lead to the plant just sending up another seed head. However, the further into reproductive growth the grass is, the longer it will take to switch back to vegetative growth once it is clipped. Because of this, clipping after the boot stage, earlier in the seed head production can be the best option.
Reduced Eye Irritation - In some cases, seed heads in a pasture stands can cause eye irritation to grazing livestock as they reach through the seed head stems to graze lush growth beneath. Anecdotal evidence has shown that having seed heads clipped reduces the amount of pink eye cases from eye irritation and watering.
Weed Control - Clipping in the spring and throughout the grazing season can be an effective weed control tool. Ensuring weeds do not go to seed helps the density and longevity of the desired pasture species. This can be an especially effective way to control biennial weeds that quickly bolt in their second season of growth.
Cons of Clipping Pastures
Cost - Getting the tractor and mower out automatically costs money in fuel, machinery wear and tear, as well as labor and time. Estimated cost of pasture clipping ranges from $16-$18 per acre. This cost should be analyzed closely when deciding if clipping is the right choice for your operation.
Potential Stand Damage - Clipping stands at the right cutting height will not be detrimental to the stand. However, pastures clipped too short in the spring can have production issues the rest of the season. Spring is a time when grasses are pulling energy straight from their root reserves, knowing the sun and warmth is coming to replenish those. If pastures are clipped too short to where the plant does not have enough leaf area to photosynthesize, the plant can be damaged. At that point, it will have very little remaining root reserves to pull from. Keep clipping height to a minimum of 4 inches to maintain adequate leaf area for regrowth.
Keep the above pros and cons in mind when making decisions about clipping pastures. If you have questions specific to your pasture, comment below or give the office a call. We would be happy to talk it over!