Strategies for Reclaiming Hay Feeding Areas

mudWet conditions this winter have resulted in almost complete disturbance in and around hay feeding areas.  Even well designed hay feeding pads will have significant damage surrounding the pad where animals enter and leave. These highly disturbed areas create perfect growing conditions for summer annual weeds like spiny pigweed and cockle bur. Their growth is stimulated be lack of competition from a healthy and vigorous sod and the high fertility from the concentrated area of dung, urine and rotting hay.

Regardless of the reclamation strategy that is employed, it always important to create an environment that will allow seed to germinate quickly and uniformly, and achieve rapid canopy closure. The best defense against summer annual weeds is covering the soil with a desirable forage species. This inhibits weeds from germinating and allows the desirable forage to actively compete with weeds that have germinated. Creating this environment starts with making sure that soil fertility and pH are adequate and preparing a fine, but firm seedbed.

Soil test and adjusting fertility.  Damaged areas should be soil tested and lime and fertilizer applied as needed.  In most cases, fertility will be high in hay feeding areas due to high concentrations of dung, urine, and rotting hay.  However, a quick soil test will allow you to confirm this and tell your if lime is needed.

Reseeding damaged sods.  In most cases, hay feeding areas will need complete renovation.  After hay feeding is completed and cattle have been moved onto pastures, reclaiming these areas can begin.  In most cases, these areas will need to be harrowed to smooth and level.  The goal should be to produce a fine, but firm seedbed that will enhance soil to seed contact.  Good soil to seed contact is essential for rapid germination and uniform emergence of the seeded forage crop.  A general rule is that if you walk across a prepared seedbed and sink in past the sole of your shoe, it needs be re-firmed by cultipacking or waiting for a rain to settle it.

You may want to plant tall fescue into these areas, but April is getting late for fescue establishment. Some producers use annual ryegrass or spring oats for a quick cover, short term stand, but they should be planted immediately. Many producers are choosing to wait until after frost for planting and using a warm season annual s like sudangrass, crabgrass or other species. When a summer annual is used, you can then spray out this stand in late summer and plant the desired long term perennial cool season species like tall fescue with great success in early September.  See the Forage Species Section of the UK Forage Website for more detailed establishment and management practices for all the summer annual forages adapted to Kentucky.

For the full article including strategies for using all the warm and cool season grass species, see the March edition of Cow Country News. ~ Dr. Chris Teutsch, excerpt from Cow Country News