Forage Establishment – The best ways to get to do it over!

Have you ever heard the saying “You never have time to do it right, but you always find time to do it over”. My father said it to me often. You can imagine the context. In (my) defense, it is human nature to be in a hurry and to skip steps that seem to be less than absolutely necessary. Few processes on the farm provide as much temptation for this ‘skip a step’ thinking as forage establishment.

With a tip of the hat to my dad, here are my top ways to get to ‘do’ forage establishment over. I have made every mistake below, so consider this autobiographical.

Assume the last user left it set right for you. For rental equipment, it is better to assume that the settings are completely wrong. One county went so far as to stencil this warning in big block letters on the side of the drill, “NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR SETTINGS”!

Don’t check the tubes for blockages and sprouted old seed. Drills have multiple tubes and compartments that seem to just right for spider to build webs and for leftover seed to sprout. Make sure all passages are clear before seeding.

Don’t read the manual (for the seeder). From spinner seeders to expensive no-till drills to cultipacker-type seeders, all can be successful when operated correctly. Improperly set equipment is one of the most common causes of doing it over.

Don’t check the seed depth and placement. News flash – most forage crops have small seeds. Small seeds need shallow placement. Most forages should be no deeper than 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Forage seeds benefit from being pressed into the soil as with a cultipacker or  packer wheel, or at least some type of drag. 

Ignore weeds. The most successful seedings are where weed problems are addressed before and after seeding. Some weeds, like johnsongrass are such problem weeds that may take a multi-year approach to clean up a field, especially if it is going back into a grass. Preventing seed production of toxic tall fescue is critical for establishment of endophyte-free or novel tall fescues. New seedings are especially vulnerable to weed competition after seeding when seedlings are newly emerged and not fully established.

Not addressing fertility needs. Soil fertility is one variable you completely control, so get a soil test and apply the critical amendments. Your extension agent can help you interpret a soil test report and develop a fertilizer strategy.

Ignoring the calendar. Hitting the right calendar window for seeding is complicated. There are generally accepted windows for seeding grasses and legumes but year to year variation in weather, access to equipment and frankly just available time can be factors making you consider planting outside the optimum dates. Seeding outside of the recommended dates means you are choosing the greater risk of seeding failure with the 100% chance of failure if you don’t seed at all. Late summer/early fall is the best time to seed cool season grasses, but ideally legumes should be added later (like a frost seeding in February). Grasses like tall fescue and orchardgrass require 7 to 10 days of moist conditions to emerge. Legumes germinate and emerge faster than grasses and are more competitive for light. Legumes have taproots which give them an advantage over grasses when moisture is limiting. Legumes are more tolerant of drier and warmer conditions after emergence than the fibrous-rooted cool season grasses. So spring seedings favor legumes, but they can be seeded in the fall if seeding by early Sept. The cooler, and typically wetter conditions of fall are the best for cool season grass establishment. Legumes drilled into a firm, moist seedbed can emerge in two to three days.

Using cheap seed. Uncertified or common seed is never worth the risk when seeding a perennial forage crop. Do your homework on what is available from your preferred vendor and check those products against the extensive test data available from UK Forages web site ( or just google UKY Forage Varieties). Blends or mixes can be good buys, but only if the tag confirms you are getting proven varieties.

Careful attention to these forage establishment principles will greatly lower your risk of getting to ‘do it over.’ Happy foraging. ~ Jimmy Henning for Farmers Pride

Pub of the Month: Establishing Forage Crops (AGR-64)

Successful livestock production depends on a forage program that supplies large quantities of quality, homegrown feed. Such forage programs do not develop by chance but are the result of careful planning and detailed attention to establishment, production, and utilization of forage crops. Establishment of a good stand is a first and important step in a successful forage program. Find the full publication here.

Eastern Native Grass Symposium

Join us in Kentucky at Louisville’s renowned Galt House Hotel, October 3rd -6th, for the 12th Eastern Native Grasslands Symposium! This year’s Symposium will feature two days of speakers and poster presentations, as well as a full day of field trips. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) will be offered for landscape architects and certified crop advisors.

The biennial Eastern Native Grasslands Symposium is sustained by the expanding interests and cooperation of a diverse spectrum of people involved with native grasses, forbs, and wetland plants of the eastern United States. These include restorationists, landscape architects, ecologists, landowners, forage producers, biologists, wildlife and pollinator enthusiasts, private consultants, government agencies, seed and plant producers, and many more!

This year’s symposium will cover:

  • Native Plants in Landscape and Design
  • Native grasses in energy and transportation of rights-of-way
  • Site preparation, seed selection, establishment and maintenance
  • Native grasses and forbs for pollinator conservation
  • Grasslands for pasture and forage
  • The role of natives in conservation agriculture
  • Restoration of Grasslands
  • Native grasses and forbs in the solar industry and more!

Alfalfa may have a future on Mars

The benefits of alfalfa as a feedstuff, soil enhancer, and nitrogen contributor are well known here on Earth. Someday, those same benefits may be leveraged on Mars.

While evaluating possible food sources to sustain life on the Red Planet, Iowa State University researchers were investigating the possibility of growing crops such turnips, lettuce, and radishes.

Of course, the soil on Mars is much different than the majority of our native soils on Earth. A Mars’ soil is mostly derived from past volcanic activity, which makes it basaltic in composition. It is salty but has also been found to contain low concentrations of most of the macro and micro elements we are familiar with on Earth. It also has poor water-holding capacity due to absence of organic carbon.”

In the greenhouse study, a Mars-like soil was simulated from ground basaltic rocks. Turnips were planted in the basaltic soil or in a garden soil, which was used as a control treatment. As would be expected, “. . . the growth of turnip plants in the basaltic Mars-like soil was unhealthy as compared to that grown in garden soil,” the researchers noted. The addition of liquid fertilizer to the basaltic soil significantly improved turnip growth.

The researchers also investigated the possibility of using one plant species to provide nutrition for the desired edible plant species. It was noted that alfalfa exhibited “robust growth” in the Mars-like soil when fresh water was applied.

Alfalfa was tested to see if it could serve as a nutrient source in the Mars-like soil for growing food crops. The alfalfa was grown on the basaltic Mars soil and harvested. It was then dried and ground into a powder, which was applied to the edible crops’ grown in Mars soil.

The growth of turnip plants increased by 190% in the alfalfa-treated Mars-like soil compared to the untreated soil and produced healthy bulbs. The biomass of radish bulbs improved by 311% and lettuce leaf production jumped 79% when grown in the alfalfa-treated Mars soil.

The photos show the effect of dried and ground alfalfa on the growth of turnip (left) and radish (right) in a basaltic Mars simulant soil.

In their discussion, the researchers stated, “this study signifies that for long-term purposes, it is possible to treat soil and water resources  in place for farming on Mars to sustain human missions and permanent settlements.”

Perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . alfalfa has a future on Mars, but you may want to wait a few years before buying cropland on the Red planet. See full article here.

~adapted from Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower

Cancellation from Flooding: KFGC Annual Field Day

The KFGC Annual Field Day scheduled for August 11 has been cancelled due to flooding at the UK RCARS Research Station in Quicksand, KY where the event was to be held. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost their homes and to families who have lost loved ones due to the recent tragic flooding event in Eastern KY. We encourage you to take the gas money you would have used to drive to the field day and donate to a flood relief fund of your choosing.

Fall Grazing School Registration now open

The 2022 Fall Grazing School will be held in Versailles, KY on September 13 and 14th. The two day event covers cattle nutrition, pasture improvements and grazing strategies, as well as hands on demonstrations and activities including building temporary fence and water systems. Registration is $50 and includes educational materials and lunch both days. Space is limited. More information is available at

Publication of the Month: Stockpiling for Fall and Winter Pasture (AGR-162)

Many cattle producers can take advantage of the late summer-fall growing conditions to obtain high-quality pasture for fall and early winter grazing. This practice is called stockpiling. Management decisions for optimum stockpiling include selecting grass species, timing, fertilizing, grazing management or utilization, selecting classes of cattle, and designing grazing systems for efficient utilization. The most important thing though is to cut or graze the pastures you want to stockpile in early to mid-August and then let them rest until late this fall.

Find this publication at the UK Forage website under the “Grazing” tab or go directly to  the link 

Forage Timely Tips: August

– Continue grazing available summer annuals (millets, sorghum/Sudangrass, crabgrass, etc.).
– Apply 40-60 lb N/acre to stimulate summer annual regrowth. 
– Identify fescue pastures for stockpiling. Choose pastures that are well drained, have a strong sod, and have not been overgrazed. 
– Soil test pastures to determine fertility needs.
– Using UK variety trial results, select varieties to plant in the fall and order seed. 
– Use a designated sacrifice lot to feed livestock hay and supplements as you wait for drought stressed pastures to reocsets in and no forage is available for grazing.

Used beer yeast reduces cow methane production

Brewer’s yeast used to make beer is typically discarded once it’s no longer needed. Sometimes, though, the leftover yeast is mixed into livestock feed as a source of protein and vitamins. Now, there may be even more reason to continue this practice, according to findings by a team of scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Warren Wilson College, (WWC) and Asheville Sustainability Research (ASR), LLC of Asheville, North Carolina.

Laboratory results the team suggest that using leftover brewer’s yeast as a feed additive may benefit the environment by helping cows belch less methane and  resulting in more efficient animal gain.  Methane from cows is a waste byproduct arising from the fermentation activity of certain kinds of microbes, called methanogens, in the first of the animal’s four stomach chambers, the rumen. Another group of rumen microbes, known as “hyper-ammonia-producing bacteria,” are behind the animal’s excretion of ammonia, a potential air- and water-quality concern. The microbes’ production of methane and ammonia from food the cow eats also robs the animal of amino acids needed for growth and milk production, explained Michael Flythe, a research microbiologist with the ARS Forage-Animal Production Research Unit in Lexington, Kentucky.

Flythe’s co-investigation of the preventive role that brewer’s yeast may play is part of an ongoing effort to develop natural alternatives to using expensive protein supplements and monensin (an ionophore antibiotic only approved for use in cattle) to keep the gas-producing microbes in check. A prior focus on that front has included incorporating red clover into the animal’s diet.

Most recently, Flythe teamed with Robert Bryant (ASR) and Rhys Burns, Christopher Feidler-Cree and Denia Carlton and Langdon Martin—all of WWC—to explore the preventive potential of leftover brewer’s yeast, which ferment grains used in making ale, lager and other types of beer.  By one estimate, the brewing process generates 15 to 18 tons of spent brewer’s yeast per 10,000 hectoliters (or approximately 2,641 gallons) of finished beer, making it the second largest byproduct next to spent brewer’s grains (SBGs). According to a 2019 study, brewers in Europe alone generate 6 million tons of SBGs annually and 1 million tons of spent brewer’s yeast.   

During the brewing process, the yeast, known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, absorb humolones, lupolones and other compounds from hops that contribute to beer’s flavor and aroma. Humolones and lupolones are both biologically active molecules that inhibit certain bacteria and other microbes, including those that trigger the cow’s release of methane and ammonia. But until recently, little research had been done to learn whether leftover brewer’s yeast enriched with hops compounds could be just as effective at controlling the rumen microbes’ noxious ways. 

The team also used baker’s yeast and monensin as controls for comparison. Not surprisingly, the baker’s yeast, which had not been exposed to hops during the brewing process, failed to tamp down microbes’ production of the gases. However, the spent brewer’s yeast—flush with the hops compounds it had absorbed—curbed the microbes’ methane production by 25 percent on average—a reduction comparable to monensin.

Although spent brewer’s yeast is sometimes used as a livestock feed additive, Flythe said cow feeding trials would still be necessary to fully assess its potential to reduce methane and ammonia on a farm scale.

~from USDA-ARS news release June 28, 2022.

Late Season Forage Production with Oats

Those who ant quick fall production from an annual forage may want to try oats planted in mid-August.  Planted at 3 bu/acre and given 50-60 lb N/acre, you can typically harvest 1.5 to 2.5 tons of dry matter in mid-October. As planting is delayed, yields fall dramatically. The normally cool night temperatures of late September conserves the sugars and produces high quality forage. With sufficient nitrogen or manure, oat forage will easily reach 18% crude protein. Or for even more production, mix oats with cereal rye to have lush regrowth early spring next year. Note: if spring oats are planted they die overwinter and winter oats often don’t survive KY winters.