– Travis Meteer, Extension Educator, Commercial Agriculture, Orr Agricultural R&D Center
A frequent question for early summer time is “Should I clip my pasture?” In most cases, the farmer is seeking a yes or no answer…and hopefully validation of their current practice. Unfortunately, the answer is somewhat dependent on your previous pasture management and current grazing system.
If you have pastures with heavy weed pressure, encroaching woody species, and a predominantly continuous grazing system… then clipping pastures is most likely needed. It is mostly needed for weed control. However, it will also re-set forages promoting a more even grazing pattern in summer and early fall.
If you are utilizing a rotational grazing system with frequent rotations, then clipping may not be worth it. Multi-species grazing also helps control weeds and promote uniform grazing. Improving your management with rotation (rest), stocking rates to match forage growth curves, and multiple species for uniform grazing will be more viable than clipping.
• Weed control/ control of less-desirable species/lower need for herbicide weed control
• Uniform regrowth of vegetative plants results in higher quality pasture and more intake
• Allow sunlight to reach down into preferred plants in the stand
• Eliminates seed heads and reduces eye irritation (helps prevent pinkeye, fescue foot)
• “Looks good”(may be a factor if you are renting pasture)
• Fuel, equipment, labor costs
• Exposes soil to sunlight, raising soil temp. (bad for soil biology and cool season plants)
• Reduces natural re-seeding of plants
• Clipping pastures in the boot stage of the plant can deplete root reserves
• Mowing too close to the ground can remove too much leaf and stunt plant regrowth
The cost of clipping pastures is variable. In a recent publication by Illinois FBFM, mowing pastures with a rotary type mower results in a cost of $15.10 per acre. That cost could be slightly higher due to rising fuel costs. Iowa published a cost of $16.25 per acre in their 2013 Custom Rates publication.
Clipping pastures is a form of mechanical weed control. It can have other benefits, but those benefits must be weighed against the costs that are associated with mowing pastures. In most cases, clipping pastures is a very low return on investment practice and results on no return on investment in many years. Developing a rotational grazing system with frequent rotations and adequate rest will result in more return on investment and reduce the time and money spent on mowing pastures.