The number one species of livestock on small acreages in Montana ls horses. Extensive care must be used to manage the grass on these small acreages.
There are large ecological differences between native rangeland and improved pasture grasses. Unless you have a large acreage, horses should not be grazed on native rangeland due to the fact that native rangeland is easy to overgraze and that will basically destroy the native range plants. You will be left with an infestation of weeds or annual grasses.
When grazing horses on improved pasture grass, special care still needs to be used to avoid overgrazing. The majority of horses only need to graze for about two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening to fulfill their nutritional needs. During the rest of the day, that they can be kept in the corral to avoid overgrazing. In the long run it is more economical to supplement your horses with hay rather than overgrazing your pasture. If you are still seeking that perfect place in the country, look for parcels that have the ability to be irrigated. Your grazing options are much larger with irrigation.
Keep in mind that Montana is nearly a high desert and the native plants need protection from too many grazing animals too often.Â
Alfalfa is the most important forage crop in Montana. It is grown in every county in the state and nearly all the hay is consumed by the livestock within the state. Alfalfa hay can have a protein level as high as 22% or more and as little as 10% or less depending on when harvest occurs and weather damage. The crop can produce four to seven tons per acre for a value of up to $560 dollars per acre. Alfalfa can be damaged by diseases, insects, grazing animals, and by harvesting too late in the growing season. Alfalfa is a very expensive crop to establish so landowners need to take care of their stands.
Dairy cattle tend to require high amounts of high quality alfalfa while beef cattle utilize lower quality alfalfa. Most beef producers tend to seed some grass with their alfalfa while dairy producers demand a pure alfalfa crop that is cut early to maximize the protein content of the hay. The addition of grass to the seed mix is preferred by beef cattle owners and horse owners.
Pastures are a very integral part of every livestock operation. No matter how many acres of land you own, it is very important to keep them healthy. The healthier the pasture, the healthier your livestock will be. Pastures can easily be damaged by grazing animals. Damage can be done on any size livestock operation, but smaller parcels are particularly susceptible to overgrazing. It is very easy to overestimate forage growth. Incorrect estimates can damage grass plants for decades.
Ever since cattle were brought into Montana, producers and research scientists have been improving grass species that produce more production than the native varieties. These improved varieties will produce more forage and are less susceptible to overgrazing. Many of these varieties are selections from the best native plants.
Many times landowners are faced with the decision about replacing a grass stand. This decision is not an easy one. First you must determine if a grass stand needs replacing or is it just overgrazed. Many times a pasture will look totally devoid of grass but the roots are still there. If there are roots and some green grass blades there may be hope. What your pasture may need is time to recover and some TLC. If you do decide to replace the stand it is important to do it right. Most small acreage landowners do not have the equipment to do a proper job of preparing the soil for planting. The key to planting any seed is proper seed to soil contact. It requires a clean seed bed that does not contain any competitive plants that will reduce seedling vigor.
Sometimes landowners find that the easiest method to replace a grass stand is to employ the services of a local landowner who has the equipment to do the job. Then your only job is to select the grass species of your choice. Dryland stand replacement is even a larger risk since you are at mercy of the rain. If it rains you will be successful, if it does not rain, you can try again in the fall or the next spring. Crop failures on dryland pasture are common. The key is to have the seed in the ground early in the spring when you have the best chance for rain and the plants will be ready to compete against annual grass and weeds.
What ever you decide to do, you will need to keep all livestock off newly planted acres for at least a year to allow the new plants to mature.
Whether you have irrigated pasture or dryland pasture, it is important to select the best varieties for the soil, rainfall, and livestock that you own. The links on the right side of the page will assist you in that decision. I would also highly recommend that you contact you local Extension Office for advice on grass varieties that do a good job in your location. Follow this link to find the contact information.