Skip to main content

Irrigated Pasture Management

May contain: ditch

Irrigated pasture is the top crop for NID raw water customers. Last year, 7,043 miner’s inches of water irrigated 19,727 acres of pastureland within District boundaries.

Irrigated pasturing has been employed in California for over 100 years. The first instance of irrigated pasture management was recorded in 1921 in Yuba County. Information on managing irrigated pastures in Northern California is documented in reports from agencies like the California Agricultural Experimental Station Extension Service, dating back to the 1950s, demonstrating that this method is tried-and-true. 

There are several benefits to irrigating your pasture, from broadening and balancing feed production to saving water and enhancing your soil. Multiple methods can be implemented to help manage your irrigated pasture and promote high yields and efficiency on your property. Read along for some of our best practices.

Pasture Seeding

Planting a combination of legumes and grasses is important in providing adequate nutrients for your cattle to graze on. There are benefits to each type, ranging from better bloat control through the grass to higher protein and mineral content in legumes. Irrigation pasturing helps maintain a balanced supply of these plants throughout the pasture season, ensuring that one plant species does not dominate another. It is important to take the necessary steps in preparing your soil so that your seeds settle properly and water can reach them.

Seedbed Preparation

Creating a fine yet firm seedbed promotes the best environment for soil-to-seed contact allowing seeds to properly implant into the soil while also permitting moisture to reach the seeds. 

To obtain a packed seedbed, you can employ a combination of various methods. Some of these methods include:

  • Plowing
  • Disking
  • Harrowing
  • Rototilling

Firm seedbeds allow moisture retention close to the surface, creating the optimal environment for your seeds to root and thrive.

Seeding Methods

There are several methods you can use to seed your pasture. A Brillon places seeds ½ inch below the ground surface, allowing for quick germination and sprouting. 

Whereas, packing soil and broadcasting seeds enable far scattering. This works well over a large planting area. Frost seeding is utilized when there are cold temperatures in early spring, as the soil freezes at night and thaws by the next day. This allows the seed to become implanted in the soil and is best used when revitalizing a previously planted area or in smaller sections of land. Understanding the best method to maintain good soil-to-seed contact is integral to ensuring that your plants prosper while maximizing irrigation use.

Rotational Grazing

Rotational grazing involves sectioning out various plots of land and concentrating your grazing animals to each plot at different times. It employs heavy grazing on a periodic and cyclic basis, needing large numbers of animals to graze the designated region effectively. 

An example of an effective rotation system includes dividing a pasture into six sections, grazing one region for five days before moving the livestock to the next area. This allows for 25 days of regeneration from the first plot being grazed. Repeating this every 10 days permits three irrigation cycles; moreover, irrigating directly after grazing is integral to promoting your pasture's regrowth.

Benefits of Rotational Grazing

Employing rotational grazing as a method for managing your irritated pasture results in high productivity and rapid regrowth. Depending on the speed, rapid rotations can increase carrying capacity by 40% to 50%, resulting in higher turnover and greater profitability.

Grazing management also allows for increased water absorption and lower water runoff. Watering directly after grazing expedites the growth of your pasture, minimizing water waste and saving money. Ensuring that water nozzles are in good condition maximizes the amount of water being distributed onto your plot. Our blog on water conservation discusses how rotational grazing contributes to saving water and greater yields.

Why Managing your Irrigated Pasture is Important

Properly preparing your irrigated pasture is essential to reduce future costs, keeping water use and labor for irrigation to a minimum while promoting higher yields throughout the life of your pasture. The purpose of irrigation in pasture management is to sustain a steady supply of water within the soil to promote healthy plants; continual overwatering or underwatering can harm yield production and deplete the quality of your soil. Packing your soil and creating a rotational grazing system works to maximize the benefits of the water being used to promote the growth of your pasture.

Have questions regarding irrigation water? Check out our FAQ page for more information.

Join our mailing list