The Sun will Come Out…

…at least I hope so. Our Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council board met recently, and they challenged all of us in forage leadership to get as specific as possible about what producers should do about mud. What follows is a synthesis of thoughts about the path forward after what amounts to two years of incredibly wet winter weather.

Henry Ford said ‘Obstacles are those frightful things we see when we take our eyes off the goal. With that in mind, I am going to challenge us all to think beyond the short term problem of a pugged up field to the ultimate goal to be accomplished. We need to get a thick stand of grazing and traffic tolerant grass on these areas before going into the next winter feeding period.

So instead of thinking now about the next 60 days, let’s start with ways to get a thick stand of grass by fall of 2019. To do that, we need to have the damaged field in shape to seed to permanent cover by mid-August. I said ready to seed. Lord only knows what the summer will bring, assuming we get one. In terms of the type of grass to seed, I think the only hope for holding these feeding area fields together is tall fescue. The choice between a novel tall fescue variety or ordinary KY 31 is perplexing, even for me. The novel fescues are clearly tough, and this is clearly an opportunity to upgrade a field.

No-till seeding will help preserve the soil structure that you build with interim forages (or weeds unfortunately) next summer. You will want to use seeding rates on the high side of the range (25 lb per acre or more) and you will want to drill in two directions with a half rate each time. Realistically, this strategy will only provide about 6 to 8 inches of growth going into fall, but it is permanent cover.

What you do just prior to the fall seeding window is flexible, much of it driven by when you can get animals off the damaged field, your need for forage from that field and how much smoothing that field needs. I am sure that you are thinking, “I’d get them off of there tomorrow if I had any other options.” That said, let’s say the best case scenario is you get access to the field on April 1. We routinely spring seed red clover in April and get 2 tons of dry matter and more. You are going to have to smooth up the field in order to get good seed-soil contact.

Red clover will not provide any hoof support but it is easily managed so fall seedings of grass are possible. We are putting out some demonstrations using a mix of crabgrass and red clover as well. Based on our goal of permanent grass cover, manage the vegetation present so the grass seeding has the advantage; that means you may want to use a non-selective herbicide to prepare for a  fall seeding.

Summer annuals (sorghum-sudangrass, sudangrass, pearl millet) give us more time to get the ground smoothed, as they are usually seeded beginning in May depending on soil temperature. These grasses have the advantage of providing high yields as well as utilizing the nutrients provided from the manure and urine in hay feeding areas. Indications are that seed supplies of these products will be tight because of poor harvest conditions last year. So if that is your plan, book your seed early. Consult AGR-229, Warm Season Annual Grasses in Kentucky (Google AGR-229 UKY) to see which one is right for you.

Finally, it is still conceivable that ryegrass (planted right away) can provide some quick cover, and spring oats can actually yield 2 tons plus if planted my mid-March. The likelihood of getting a seeding window in the next two weeks is dwindling, but the option is there. Summarizing all of this, our goal is a good stand of permanent cover on our winter feeding areas. Everything we do has to work towards that goal. Happy foraging.

~ Jimmy Henning, published in Farmers Pride