acreage living April 1999

ISU cooperative extension

In this issue: acreage living home page

 Spring Pasture Management - Odds and Ends

Carroll Olsenby Carroll Olsen, ISU Extension Field Specialist/Crops, SW Area Extension Center
Phone: 712-769-2600 - e-mail:

Spring is definitely here to stay, finally, and it's time to turn our attention to the growing things around us including our pastures and forage crops. We've covered a lot of the principles in prior newsletters and there may be more detailed information in those letters. We'll visit about plant species used, fertilization, and weed control.

In the spring, it seems to take forever for the forage to become large enough to harvest, either as hay or by animals. Our first thought is to fertilize to bring it on a little faster and make it more pleasing to the eye. Pasture fertilization is rarely economical unless the extra forage produced will be harvested effectively. We don't want to produce so much growth that it gets so tall it falls over and kills some of the plants.

Nitrogen (N) fertilizer stimulates grass growth. Cool season grasses are most responsive to nitrogen applications if the product is applied in early spring. Total response will depend on adequate moisture, temperature, and phosphorous availability. If those conditions are met, each pound of N will produce up to 20 to 30 pounds more forage (up to a point, of course).

How much to apply? How much can you use effectively, knowing that cool-season grasses produce most of their growth prior to August 1? We have studies showing that 100 to 120 pounds N per acre can be economical and effective if harvested properly. But not everyone can make use of excess forage - adding more livestock for a while, harvesting as hay, etc. Forty to sixty pounds of actual N per acre may be more practical for many of us. What do I mean, actual N? Confusing, isn't it?

Fertilizer products have an "ingredient" label, usually consisting of at least three numbers as in 25-0-0. Those numbers refer to percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (in that order) in that bag or container. So the aforementioned bag would contain 25% nitrogen by weight and no phosphorous or potassium. If you wanted to apply 50 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre, you'd have to apply two hundred pounds of total material. Nitrogen products are available as granules and liquids and application will depend on you and the equipment you have available. Dry application may be the easiest for most of us. Or, you may have the product custom applied by a dealer. Expect the dealer to charge a little more per acre if you have a small acreage.

If you have manure to haul out, you may have a free source of nitrogen and not have to purchase any added material. Some people try to encourage animals to graze over the whole pasture so as to help with the manure spreading.

pastureIf legumes (clovers, alfalfa, trefoil) are in the pasture mix, fertilization becomes more complicated. Phosphorous and potassium, especially phosphorous, are more important for legumes. And soil pH should be closer to seven for the plants to do their best. (Grasses will do well with soil pH in the area of six.) Fertilizing a grass-legume pasture with N will pro mote grass growth and competition at the expense of legume growth. Sometimes that is desirable if the legumes are tending to outgrow the grass. Other wise, an acceptable stand of legumes will provide N to the grasses and no additional nitrogen should be necessary.

Apply phosphorous (P) and potash (K) only when soil test levels indicate a need. Once a pasture has adequate P and K, there is probably no benefit to adding more of those nutrients. Phosphorous and potassium additions by themselves rarely increase yields of grasses unless soil test levels are very low or low.

Plant species
We've covered this topic pretty thoroughly in past newsletters. The most common forage species would include smooth bromegrass, orchardgrass, bluegrass, switchgrass, Indiangrass, alfalfa, ladino, red and alsike clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, and tall fescue. Special needs forages would include annuals such as turnips, berseem clover, lespedeza, and sudangrass. And there are lots of other species you can read about in the popular press. I'd suggest you copy the success of most of your neighbors. Oftentimes, the old tried and true will-be the most successful and economical.

Weed control
Weeds are plants livestock will not graze. Intensive grazing by areas or paddocks will sometimes help to control annual weeds, as they can be quite nutritious when they are young. Over-grazing, removing too much top growth, of the desired species will only start a pasture on the downhill slide to more weeds. As we've said before, it's best to dry lot the live stock and give the pasture a chance.

Mowing, rouging or spading, and spraying are all methods that can be employed to control weeds and enhance desirable species, but there are no quick fixes. And these methods can be expensive and time consuming and a waste of time if other management factors are not included in an overall plan for long-term health of the pasture.

If you decide to use chemical controls, be sure you use the right product for the right weed. That means you need to be able to identify the weed by taking a sample to your county ISU Extension office. While there, you might ask for more information on weed control in pastures and forage crops as it's contained in the Herbicide Manual for Agricultural Professionals (WC-92). The office also has a new booklet on pasture management that sells for about $10. Always read the label on any pesticides you use.

WHEN DESIRABLE FORAGES ARE VIGOROUS, HEALTHY AND DENSE, MOST WEEDS WILL BE UNABLE TO COMPETE. Weeds can be considered indicator plants in pastures as to grazing management.

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 Wills For Young Families

Mary Beth Kaufman by Mary Beth Kaufman, ISU Extension Field Specialist/Family Resource Management, Shelby County - Phone: 712-755-3104 - e-mail:

"Why do we need a will? We don't have much money and don't own anything of value." Those comments by a young dad show why many young families delay writing a will. Many don't consider the value of insurance, a home, and savings.

Wills aren't just for the wealthy. Wills aren't just for those with property and assets. For young families, wills protect and provide for a most important asset - children. A will gives you the opportunity to select and name a guardian for your child in the event that both you and your spouse die.

Dying in testate, without a will, leaves the estate to be distributed by a court-appointed administrator under Iowa law. This includes decisions about guardians for minor children. The appointed guardian might not be the one you would have chosen.

A will gives you control over what happens to your minor children and ensures that your property will be distributed the way you want. It's just as important for a wife to have a will as it is for a husband.

A basic will generally includes:
Your name and place of residence
A brief description of your assets
Names of spouse, children and beneficiaries
Specific gifts
Name of an executor, someone who will manage your estate
Guardian of your minor children
An alternate guardian, in case your first choice is unable to serve
Your signature and signatures of witnesses

To help make a wise decision about a guardian for children, consider these points:

Consider how you want the proceeds of life insurance or sale of estate property to be used. Often parents want the funds to be used for college education. This is understandable, but who pays for the cost of raising children? It's nice that a brother, sister or parents are willing to raise children, but how do they pay for it? What assets could be invested and used for the support of your children?

Discuss your preferences with your spouse and then with the prospective guardian. Give the person or couple time to consider this important decision before you write a will. Remember, it might be important to name an alternate guardian in case the first person you name is unable to serve.

Want more information on wills or selecting a guardian? Consider a call to the staff attorney at the Iowa Concern hotline operated by Iowa State University Extension. The toll-free number is 1-800-447-1985.

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 Invasion of the Lawn Thatchers

Jim Peaseby Jim Pease, ISU Extension Wildlife Specialist, Ames
Phone: 515-294-7429 - e-mail: or

Help! I've got a horrible invasion of something in my yard! Now that the snow's gone, I can see tunnels all over my lawn -- there must be hundreds of whatever it is. What should I do?

This is the time of year when our lawns look their worst. The snow may be gone, but the grass has not started to grow. It's matted down and brown and seems to be filled with tunnels of last year's thatch. Many of the grassy tunnels seem to end beneath the bird feeder. Who is the offending critter?

The culprit is the meadow vole, also known as a meadow mouse. This small, chestnut brown rodent is seldom seen but very common all over Iowa. The tunnels it makes beneath the snow are, in fact, lined with thatch from last year's grass. Voles have longish fur that almost hides their small ears and eyes. Their tail is short, about a third the length of their body. Unlike other mice, they almost never enter houses. They may be mistaken, however, for another small mammal that does get into houses: the short-tailed shrew.

Since they serve as food for many predators, voles need to be prolific. With several litters per year, populations can build quickly, and are highly variable from place to place and season to season. Evidence of voles' presence is most obvious in the early spring as snow cover disappears. However, close inspection of grassy areas during the growing season also may reveal less obvious runways in the turf, sometimes including the top two to three inches of soil.

Voles eat a variety of plants, especially grasses and forbs. When populations are high, they may damage turf; food crops, small grains, and alfalfa fields. Voles may injure or kill young trees and shrubs by gnawing at the bark. This most often occurs in the fall and winter, but is not obvious until the spring. The plant may partially leaf out and then suddenly wilt and die. Close inspection of the base of the plant will reveal girdling of the bark at or near the soil surface.

As with most wildlife damage management, a combination of techniques leads to the most effective program:

1) Reduce cover by mowing. Mowing exposes voles to predators. As soon as mowing begins, the animals must retreat to areas of deeper grass in order to survive.

2) Exclude voles by installing quarter inch wire mesh cylinders around young trees and shrubs. The mesh should extend into the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil. Bare soil around the base of woody plants prevents voles from finding food and cover there. Mulches like bark and wood chips should be scraped back 3-4 inches from the tree during the fall and winter months.

3) If you insist on reducing the vole population, trapping is the most effective method. For most lawn areas, common wooden mouse traps, baited with peanut butter and placed along the runways at right angles to them, can reduce vole populations in a few days.


Acreage Living is published monthly. For more information, contact your local county ISU Extension Office.
Editor: Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension FS/Ag Engineering, SW Area Extension, 53020 Hitchcock Avenue, Lewis, Iowa, 51544, Ph: 712/769-2600
Layout & Design: Paulette Cambridge, Office Assistant, SW Area Extension, 53020 Hitchcock Avenue, Lewis, Iowa 51544, Ph: 712/769-2600

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