Below is a pared down version of an article I wrote for the January issue of the Florida Cattleman and Livestock Journal. I also addressed these topics in a presentation I gave along the same lines at the NW FL Beef Cattle Conference in February. Both the writing of the article and the presentation took place before pastures greened-up – I was anticipating a prevalence of pastures that might need some extra TLC. Unfortunately, now that things have greened-up and folks are taking notice of their pastures, it appears that my concerns were justified. I’ve already been called out to evaluate some pretty sad pastures this spring.


Productive livestock, like this Washington County cow who has raised a nice calf, require productive pastures to meet their nutritional needs. Over time, lack of proper management will lead to a decline in pasture productivity. Photo Credit Mark Mauldin


Please take a few minutes and read over the points below and reflect on how well you have been addressing each one. All of them (soil fertility management, grazing management, and weed management) are keys to maintaining a healthy, productive pasture. Spring is a great time implement new and improved management strategies to remedy any past shortcomings.

The warm season, perennial grass pastures (bahia, bermuda, limpo, etc.) on which most cow-calf operations in Florida are based are quite durable. They can take a lot of punishment and keep coming back. While this durability is a great resource and largely what has made these grasses so popular, there is a limit to what any stand of grass can take before there are consequences. During tough economic times it is logical to rely on the durability and resilience of your pastures to get you through with minimal inputs. However, this reliance should come with the understanding that when times get better the pastures may need to receive some extra care. Take care of your pastures so they can keep taking care of you.

Address Soil Fertility Issues

Because there are no visible, short-term consequences, expenses associated with soil fertility management are commonly one of the first cutbacks made when things get tight. More specifically, potassium (K, potash) and lime applications are frequently skipped. Most cattlemen are a little slower to completely skip nitrogen (N) applications as the consequences are more readily evident in the corresponding lack of growth. Even if N is skipped altogether, there is no lasting negative impact, plant production is simply limited until adequate N becomes available. Unlike N, applications of potassium do not usually result in a visible growth response. However, potassium is highly related to plant health and the longevity of improved pastures. Most Florida soils naturally have very little K. If pastures are deficient in K for long enough overall decline is very likely. This decline frequently coincides with the increased prevalence of native and/or weedy grasses which tend to be more tolerant of low K conditions than are most improved species. Note: like N, K is highly mobile in Florida’s sandy soils. It is not a nutrient that you can “stock up” on. For optimum plant performance K should be applied with N multiple times a year. Please talk to your County’s UF/IFAS Extension Agent for more complete fertilizer recommendations.

Like K, applications of lime do not directly correlate with increased plant growth. Lime is used to raise soil pH and make nutrients more available to plants. Spending money on N or K without having first addressed any soil pH issues is poor management. Take the time and spend a little money to get a laboratory analysis of your pasture soil. Then, following recommendations specific to the type of forage grass you are growing, address any pH issues this winter and don’t skip the potash this spring/summer.

Build a Fence

Taking steps to begin or improve a rotational grazing program can be an excellent way to reinvest in your pastures. For a pasture to be healthy it needs time to rest – time when grazing animals are excluded. Rest allows the grass an opportunity to regrow leaf area and roots and store energy needed to recover from future grazing. Unless your cows respond to suggestion way better than mine do, the only way to exclude cattle from a portion of your pasture is with a fence. The fence can be permanent or temporary and the rotational system can be simple or elaborate. If you are new to rotational grazing, I would recommend keeping it very simple. Divide your pasture in half. Graze half, rest half moving the cows from one half to the other every 3 or 4 weeks. There is certainly room for further improvement beyond the first division of the pasture but that is a great place to start. There are many factors to consider when planning a rotational grazing system. Have a conversation with your UF/IFAS Extension Agent about what kind of system would best suit your operation. Note: There is cost share money available through the USDA NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program to assist with the cost of farm infrastructure relating to rotational grazing. Contact your local NRCS Office for more information.

Manage Weeds

Weed management is expensive. During trying economic times it’s very understandable to reach the conclusion that “the weeds will still be there next year, and I’ll do something about them then”. My only retort to this logic is that a small weed infestation is inherently cheaper to deal with than is a large one. The longer you put off the situation, the more expensive it will become. Now may be a good time to invest in weed management, especially if you’ve been putting it off for a while.

Good weed management strategies are very case specific. But the following are good general concepts to keep in mind if it is time to clean up your pastures.

  • Weed management only makes financial sense if it is done in concert with other practices (fertility and grazing management) that will allow pasture grasses to be productive and rapidly refill the voids left by the dead weeds.
  • Be particularly cognizant of weedy grasses. It can be very difficult to manage an unwanted grass in a pasture without sacrificing the desirable grass around it. Do everything feasible to stop these infestations when they are small.
  • In improved pastures, if being done for weed control alone, mowing is seldom the best management option. Unfortunately, it is frequently utilized because it is perceived as simpler/easier than an herbicide application. Get the proper guidance, or hire it done, and maximize your weed control investment with a well-timed, well-delivered, application of the appropriate herbicide(s).

Our Florida pastures are tough but if they are pushed too hard, for too long, without proper maintenance they will collapse – don’t let that happen on your operation. While calf prices are high and there’s some money to spend don’t forget to take care of your pastures so they can keep taking care of you.

As previously stated, all the of the concepts addressed above are essential to maintaining a healthy, productive pasture. But when things have been let go too long there comes a point when there is nothing left to maintain. At that point the conversation shifts from the concepts of maintaining, improving, and strengthening existing pastures to renovating/replanting/starting over. Pasture renovation is slow and expensive. It involves many steps and can easily be unsuccessful if not handled properly. Trust me, you want to stay on the maintaining, improving, strengthening side of the conversation. Take the necessary steps now to stay on that side of the conversation. Now’s the time to:

  • Get a soil test and fertilize accordingly.
  • Pay special attention to grazing management. Grazing too hard to eary in the spring can be big stressor on a pasture. More on that here.
  • Scout for weeds, specifically weedy grasses like centipede, broomsedge, smutgrass, and cogongrass, and develop a control strategy.  

If you think you think it may be time to renovate a pasture, be sure to check out next week’s edition Panhandle Ag e-News. I will take a deep dive into the renovating – replanting process. If you need help determining if it’s time to renovate or if you would like to discuss any of the topics addressed in this article further don’t hesitate to contact me at or 850-638-6180.

Mark Mauldin