Most people have experience mowing their yards to maintain them for aesthetic reasons. Some people mow/bush hog their fields or pastures for the same reason. But beyond it wanting to look nice, there are some very defined benefits to trimming back your fields – and a proper time to do it.
Let’s get down to basics – what is a bush hog? It’s a type of rotary mower that, generally, attaches to the back of a tractor using a hitch system.
Essentially there are three solid benefits to mowing/maintaining pastures or fields:
- Weed management
- Maintaining forage quality
- Reduce grazing patterns (for farmers with livestock)
Weed control is a big part of cleaning up pastures. The idea is that you want to prevent weeds from over growing pastures, developing stronger root systems, and producing mature seeds. So brush hogging acts as a mechanical mower to fight these roots from developing.
This isn’t always accomplished with a single mowing, but often multiple times a year – over the course of several years. Doing this greatly reduces and can occasionally eliminate certain weeds, such as milk thistle (pictured below).
Maintaining forage quality
According to Jesse Bussard, a graduate from the University of Kentucky that studied forage crops and livestock grazing systems – Mowing pastures also helps promote forages to remain in a vegetative state by not allowing the plant to reach a reproductive state. This allows nutrients to be focused on vegetative growth, increasing forage quality, instead of toward seed production. Care should be taken to maintain a proper cutting height when which will ensure there is adequate leaf area and left so that the plant is able to produce energy for vigorous regrowth. Cutting too close can stress plants, depleting energy reserves, and eventually may lead to plant death. Optimal cutting heights for cool season forages is approximately 2-4 inches and for warm season forages is 6-8 inches.
Reducing grazing patterns
Livestock have a tendency to graze in patterns. These patterns lead to formation of uneven patches of forage in pastures. One of Bussard’s college professors at Penn State University refers to this phenomenon in horse pastures the “lawns and the ruffs.” These “lawns” are areas of desirable forage while the “ruffs” are areas of forage that have not been grazed. “Ruffs” form for many reasons, sometimes it may be because it is located near a manure or urine spot, or other times it may just be because the forage is unpalatable. By clipping taller plants that animals leave behind the grazing pattern is reduce and a more uniform stand of forage is maintained.
When is the best time to do this?
Early to late March and, often, again in late September/early October.