Publication of the Month: Foxtail Millet (AGR-233)

Foxtail millet (German millet) is a fine-stemmed summer annual used mainly for emergency hay or pasture for cattle. It is the lowest yielding of the summer annual grasses since it will not regrow after cutting. It can also be used as a smoother crop when transitioning to other perennial forage crops. Foxtail millet is also commonly used for wildlife plantings to produce food and cover for doves, quail, and other birds. Download the full publication here.

Grass Decline? Check Your Cutting Height

Sometimes new machinery technologies solve one problem but create a new one. That might be the case when it comes to disc mowers, which have largely replaced sickle bar mowers on most haymaking operations.

“One of the issues that has developed with disc mowers is the tendency for producers to cut their fields very short,” says Gary Bates, director of the University of Tennessee Beef and Forage Center (UT-BFC). “It isn’t unusual to see a 1- or 2-inch stubble height after a producer has cut hay with one of these (disc-type) mowers,” he adds. Bates points to numerous research studies that show stubble height has a direct influence on the persistence of cool-season grasses such as tall fescue or orchardgrass.

“The recommendation from these studies is to leave at least three inches of stubble. Cutting below that height will reduce the persistence of the stand, shortening its productive life.” Many cool-season grasses store carbohydrates in the lower 2 inches of the stem. If cut below this height, especially on a consistent basis, regrowth is impaired. In addition to removing carbohydrate reserves, a low-cutting height also removes more photosynthetic leaf area. This further impedes the plant’s ability to regrow quickly. Over time, stand persistence and productivity will suffer.

“I have been asked several times why tall fescue and orchardgrass fields don’t presently last as long as they did in the past,” Bates comments. “Part of that could be simply due to our memories. Things often seemed better in the past compared to current conditions. But a lot of it is due to how close a field is cut during hay harvest,” he adds.

Bates says that one of the best checks a producer can make is that of residual cutting height. He suggests no less than a 3-inch stubble for grasses such as tall fescue and orchardgrass. For taller grasses like sorghum-sudangrass and native warm-season species, leave 6 to 8 inches of residual.

There really are few downsides to a higher grass cutting height. More low-quality stem is left in the field, regrowth is hastened, stand health and long-term productivity are preserved, and the risk for forage soil contamination is reduced. ~ Hay and Forage Grower, May 2019


We’re Producing and Feeding Less Hay

The dynamics of the hay industry have changed. Whether it can just be attributed to a natural cycle or a permanent new normal is yet to be determined. One year ago, USDA reported that year-over-year May 1 hay stocks had declined by 36 percent, which amounted to 8.7 million tons. This past December, year-over-year hay stocks also dropped for the second year in a row. Last week, USDA’s Crop Production report pegged May 1 dry hay stocks at 14.9 million tons, 3 percent (442,000 tons) below one year ago. That’s not the same drop in magnitude as last year, but it’s also not a rebound. At 14.9 million tons, May 1 hay stocks were at their lowest point since 2013 when inventories tallied 14.2 million tons. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1950 to find a year with lower spring stocks (14.6 million tons). Some of the largest hay-producing states had year-over-year May 1 stock reductions much greater than the U.S. average. Falling into this group were: Colorado (down 57%), Arkansas (down 51%), Minnesota (down 50%), Oregon (down 47%), Idaho (down 39%), Mississippi (down 39%), Pennsylvania (down 34%), Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio were each down 31%. Not all states experienced inventory reductions. Some had large gains after experiencing severe reductions in May 2018 following less than desirable growing conditions the previous year. Included in the states that had large year-over-year inventory boosts were: Montana (up 120%), New Mexico (up 110%), California (up 80%), Nebraska (up 53%), Utah (up 40%), North Dakota (up 39%), Texas (up 34%).

What has made the difference?

2011 and 2012 years were characterized by severe drought, with the 2012 being nearly nationwide. This caused hay inventories to deteriorate and prices to soar toward record levels. Between 2009 and 2014, beef cow numbers declined by about 3 million head. We might point to that as a reason for the reduction in winter hay feeding except that since 2014 the beef cow herd has rebounded to 31.8 million, a number similar to one we had in 2009.

Regardless of the reason, there has been a significant decline in U.S. hay production in the past 20 years. From 2000 to 2010, the average annual dry hay production was 150.2 million tons. Since 2011, hay production has averaged 130.3 million tons per year. Hay prices during this time have remained relatively strong.

It’s probably safe to assume that many beef producers are figuring out ways to feed less dry hay to get them through winter. More and more, we’re seeing annual forages grazed into December or later. Also, it has been well documented that dairies in the West are feeding less alfalfa hay in their cow rations year-round. A number of producers have converted from dry hay to baleage. This directly impacts hay production and inventory figures but there is no data to document exactly what percentage of production has been recently converted from dry hay to baleage.

Whatever the reasons, USDA data is telling us that we’re producing and feeding less dry hay; both trends began in 2011, and whether this situation is cyclic or the new normal remains to be seen. ~ Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower. See the full article here.hay

Upcoming Events

June 16-22 – National Forage Week

August 6 – KFGC Field Day, Ohio County, KY |

September 5 – W. KY Equine Field Day, Princeton, KY |

September 10-11 – Fall Grazing School, Versailles, KY |

September 26 – Beef Bash, Versailles, KY |

October 29-30 – Heart of America Grazing Conference, Burlington, KY – Keynote Speaker: Jim Gerrish |

October 31 – Western KY Grazing Conference, Hopkinsville, KY |

January 5-7 – AFGC Annual Conference, Greenville, NC |


Register for 2019 Kentucky Fencing School in Russellville on May 30th

Presenters will offer the newest fencing methods and sound fencing construction with classroom and hands-on learning.   The first half of the day is spent in a classroom reviewing fence construction basics, Kentucky fencing laws, and electric fencing basics.  After a catered lunch, participants will venture to a local farm and install two types of fences: fixed knot high tensile woven wire fencing and electrified smooth high tensile fencing.  Sponsors include the Gallagher North American, Stay-Tuff Fencing, UK Master Grazer Program, Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, and the Kentucky Beef Network.

More information is available here or call Rehanon Pampell at 270-365-7541.DSC_4335


Forage Timely Tips: May

  • Start hay harvests for quality forage. Consider making baleage to facilitate timely cutting.
  • Seed warm season grasses for supplemental forage once soil temperature is at 60 F.
  • Clip, graze, or make hay to prevent seedhead formation.
  • Rotate pastures as based in height rather than time.
  • Consider temporary electric fencing to subdivide larger pastures and exclude areas for mechanical harvesting.
  • Scout pastures for summer annual weeds and control when small.

Publications of the Month: Crabgrass (AGR-232); Sudangrass and Sorghum-sudangrass Hybrids (AGR-234)

Crabgrass possesses significant potential for supplying high quality summer forage although it is considered a weed by many. A primary advantage of crabgrass is that it is well adapted to Kentucky and occurs naturally in most summer pastures, especially those that have been overgrazed. It is also highly palatable and a prolific re-seeder. Planting an improved variety of crabgrass is recommended because the production of naturally-occurring ecotypes varies greatly. Crabgrass is best utilized by grazing.

Sudangrass is a rapidly growing summer annual grass in the sorghum family. It is medium yielding and well suited for grazing. Sudangrass regrows quickly after harvest and can be grazed several times during summer and early fall. This grass has finer stems than most other summer annuals which makes it better suited for hay production.

Sorghum-Sudangrass is a hybrid between sudangrass and forage sorghum. It combines the benefit of both forages with the regrowth of sudangrass and the high yield of forage sorghum. It is most often used for grazing or baleage production, but the larger stem limits it’s use for hay production. With both sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass, new BMR types combine good forage yield with improved forage quality.

These new publications provide a full description of these forages and detailed establishment and management information. Find them at the UK forage website under the Forage Species tab or look under the Variety Trials tab and download the 2018 Annual Grass Report to determine the best varieties to plant.