Small acreage pasture management tips


By Jim Smith

SUN Columnist

Last week, I discussed drought management planning for cattle ranchers and gave an introduction to small acreage pasture management.

Archuleta County is like many areas in Colorado that have seen many subdivisions spring up over the last few years. Many of the new residents purchased small acres in order to keep horses or other animals for their personal use. Many of these residents may not have a deep background in agriculture or ranch management.

The Archuleta County CSU Extension receives questions each year pertaining to small acreage pasture management. I will discuss some general pasture management practices here that will help you care for pastures and protect your valuable forage resources. Most of the small acreage in these areas are not irrigated and I will address these as being non-irrigated.

The drought we had in 2012 has magnified the importance of taking care of our forage resources. One only has to drive around our neighborhoods to see impacts of the drought and the effect it has had on our natural resources.

Taking care of our pastures will result in better weed control, protect the soil from erosion, protect our desirable grass species, and provide some forage for our animals.

Understanding shoot growth in grasses is necessary for proper grazing management. Shoot growth in grasses is divided into two life forms: vegetative shoots and long-shoots or reproductive shoots.

“Green up” in the spring is vegetative shoots. The reproductive shoots occur in about midsummer. The post-reproductive period in the fall is when plants are producing tillers and storing carbohydrates for next year’s growth. This period in the annual cycle of perennial grass is when the grasses are most susceptible to damage by grazing.

Research indicates that this year’s growth is more highly correlated to the rainfall we received this past fall than from rainfall we will receive this spring and summer. This fall we received about 50 percent of our normal rain fall. This means that, if you didn’t leave half of last year’s growth, your grass is in danger of being overgrazed. This will affect rooting depth, plant vigor, allow weeds to invade, and can result in death of desirable pasture grasses.

The big question is, “Will I be able to graze this year and what is my stocking rate?”

This is where you, as a landowner, will have to do a grass inventory. A grass inventory will involve knowing your soil classification. I would recommend taking a soil sample. We have soil test kits here at our office. This test will tell what available nutrients your soil has and you can cross reference your soil type, using a soil survey, to see what grasses are probably growing on your acreage.

Conduct a visual observation to see what the amount of remaining forage is indicated by the size of plants, ground covered by grasses, and diversity of the grass species, whether cool or warm season grasses.

Common mistakes made by some small acreage owners are grazing too many animals on a parcel of land, allowing animals to graze for too long of a time in the same area, not resting the pasture in order to have regrowth and too small of pasture sizes resulting in a huge paddock or a dry lot.

The recommended regrowth between grazing periods is 28 to 35 days. Most small acreage lends itself to limited grazing, in numbers of animals as well as duration. A paddock or dry lot can be used to keep and feed your animals, limiting the time animals are on pasture. This will help keep animals from destroying pastures and confine animal waste to a small area for proper management. Turning out horses for one to one and half hours each day will stretch your grazing resource, help with your total feed bill, and provide exercise for horses.

If drought or overgrazing has reduced your grass vigor, be prepared for weed invasion. Weed control can be done by mowing or the use of chemicals. The bottom line is that drought has intensified any overgrazing that might have occurred. If the drought continues, you may have to rest your pasture the entire year.

The Upper San Juan Weed District, Archuleta County and the Archuleta County CSU Extension are sponsoring a Property Management Workshop to be held at our office on March 27. Topics to be covered are weed control, poisonous plants, reseeding, bark beetles and programs offered to landowners by the NRCS.

The workshop will begin at 9 a.m. and will conclude at 2:45 p.m. Lunch will be served by the Allison Grange for $5 per person. Please R.S.V.P. for lunch by March 20. Call the CSU Extension office at 264-5931 or e-mail to R.S.V.P. or for information.

Food preservation classes 

The CSU Extension Office in Archuleta County is offering Back to Basics Food Preservation. We are looking for all who are interested in attending beginner food preservation classes.

Feb. 25 — Whole Fruit Canned/Frozen, 1 or 6 p.m.

March 25 — Pickling/Freezing/Drying, 1 or 6 p.m.

April 22 — Tomatoes and Salsa-Canned, Frozen/Drying of Fruits and Vegetables, 1 or 6 p.m.

May 6 — Vegetables/Pressure Canning, 1 or 6 p.m.

Each class will also cover basics of spoilage, food borne illnesses, high-altitude adjustments and canning basics.

Contact the Archuleta County CSU Extension Office at 264-5931 or to be added to the class list. Space is limited, so it will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost will be $10 per class per person and each person will get to take home one jar filled with what was made during class.

According to the USDA, “Nearly half of the vitamins may be lost within a few days unless the products are cooled or preserved. Within one to two weeks, even refrigerated produce loses half or more of its vitamins. If handled properly and canned promptly after harvest, preserved food can be more nutritious than fresh produce sold in local stores.”

Fair Book cover contest

The Archuleta County Fair Board is looking for Archuleta county residents to submit their art for the cover of the 2013 Fair Book. The theme for the 2013 fair is “Party With The Animals”. Please submit art/photo work by 4 p.m. Feb. 27 to the CSU Extension Office P.O. Box 370, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147, or drop it off at 344 U.S. 84. Call the Extension Office, 264-5931, with questions.


Feb. 7 — Colorado Master Gardener Program, 9 a.m.

Feb. 8 — 4-H Clover bud project meeting, 2 p.m.

Feb. 7 — 4-H Shady Pine club meeting, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 9 — 4-H Dog project meeting, 10 a.m.

Feb. 11 — 4-H Last day to enroll.

Feb. 11 — 4-H Food preservation project meeting, 4 p.m.

Feb. 11 — 4-H Livestock mandatory meeting. 6 p.m.

Feb. 12 — Beef symposium — Farmington N.M.

Feb. 12 — 4-H Rocky Mountain Riders club meeting, 6 p.m.

Feb. 13 — 4-H Sports fishing project meeting, 4 p.m.

Feb. 13 — 4-H Pagosa Peaks club meeting, 6 p.m.

Feb. 14 — Colorado Master Gardener Program, 9 a.m.

Feb. 14 — Mountain View Homemakers meeting, noon.

Feb. 15 — 4-H Wolf Creek Wonders club meeting, 2 p.m.

Feb. 16 — 4-H Dog Obedience, 10 a.m.

Check out our webpage at for calendar events and information.

Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.