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.

Pub of the Month: Fescue Toxicosis

This is an important publication right now since May and June are when the toxins in tall fescue are at their highest. Authored by UK’s Drs. Arnold, Gaskill, and Smith, it explains fescue toxicity and describes the ways you can manage around this issue on your farm. The last part of the publication describes the sampling methods and labs to send fescue samples to determine how much endophyte is in your field and the level of toxin (ergovaline) that is present.  Access this publication here.

Pub of the Month: Managing Legume-Induced Bloat in Cattle

White and red clover in pastures reduces the impact of fescue toxicosis, provides free nitrogen, and improves pasture quality and animal performance. These are huge benefits, but bloat can be a concern. This is a valid concern, but this publication describes simple steps that every producer can take to reduce the risk of bloat. It also describes how bloat occurs and the symptoms to watch for. Special thanks to Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler for taking the lead in writing this publication. Access this publication here.

Novel Endophyte Fescue Conversion begins in the spring

Kentucky 31 (K31) tall fescue is without question the dominant forage species and variety in Missouri and the eastern U.S. and it is for good reason. E.N. Fergus, forage specialist from the University of Kentucky in the 1930s and 1940s, did a great favor for the livestock industry, when he propagated K31 fescue.

Fescue in general is palatable with outstanding quality at early growth. It can tolerate abusive grazing better than most other forages and survives drought, diseases, insects and cold weather. Fescue provides a consistent amount of fall and winter grazing very cheaply and better than any other perennial forage we grow. The seed is readily available and it is easy to establish.

Despite all the positive benefits of K31 fescue, the obvious downside is the endophyte and the toxicity created by it for livestock that affects performance.

Forage specialists do not promote replacing K31 fescue completely. However, livestock producers who learn how to use it and/or supplement their forage systems with other forage options, are ahead of the curve on dealing with the drawbacks. Too many Missouri livestock producers depend solely on K31 fescue for pasture and hay.

Novel fescue has the potential to significantly impact animal performance and farm profitability and some outstanding novel fescue brands are now on the market. Research out of Arkansas has found significant results in cow reproduction rates by converting just 25 percent of a farm operation to novels coupled with careful  management.

Another good reason for a renovation of a fescue pasture is when there are many grassy weeds that have dominated a pasture or paddock. There are many pasture and hayfield stands that once were strong fescue fields, but aren’t anywhere close to that anymore. In most cases, there are no selective herbicides to eliminate or reduce less desirable species in a field and a complete renovation may be the only solution if a purer stand is desired. These grasses may include foxtail, nimblewill, broomsedge, purpletop and panic grass.

If a producer is starting with an existing stand of K31 fescue and intends to convert it to novel endophyte fescue, special measures to insure complete K31 elimination are highly recommended. Fescue seed can stay viable in the ground for at least 12 months so it is imperative to prevent seed production from the old K31 crop during the year of establishment.

If a producer is spending the extra money for novel seed and incorporating recommended steps to convert out of K31, we want to do everything possible to make it successful. This includes following preliminary steps to fully eliminate K31 crowns from surviving and planting at the best time of year. In most cases, a late-summer or early fall seeding is the most ideal. Unless conditions are too dry, this is usually during the month of September. There are at least two recommended methods for the conversion process. The most common method is to do a spray-smother- spray approach that involves a kill of the old fescue in the spring with heavy rates of glyphosate, then planting a summer annual smother crop followed by a second spray of glyphosate in the late summer prior to novel fescue planting. Summer annual options may be sorghum sudangrass, millet, teff or corn for silage or grain.

The first method is clearly the most expensive and time-consuming approach. However, another method to consider would be to do a spray-wait-spray approach. This involves not allowing the spring growth of K31 to go to seed, then spraying it out with a high rate of glyphosate in late June/early July. Instead of planting a smother crop, the field is left fallow for the summer. Then a couple weeks or less before later summer/ fall planting, do a second glyphosate spray. Missouri research has found that this method is also effective in eliminating any K31 resurgence in the new stand. Many will see the price of seed and think it’s just not worth it. Work done by ag economists out of Missouri and North Carolina have studied this issue closely. There are farms that have weaning weight data on calves that show major improvements in gain after cattle started grazing novel fescues. In some cow-calf operations it may take up to five years to get a full pay-back from the process in improved animal performance. But if fields are already in need of renovation to start with and are unproductive, then the pay-back starts at three years. If the plan is to only convert up to 25 percent of the farm to novels, the payoff can occur in about two years.

There are many factors that come into play when deciding if this is something a producer should consider. There are decades of research data that have shown that the fescue endophyte is a significant reducer of on-farm profit in the cattle business. Unfortunately, many producers do not recognize the quiet siphoning off of profits that occurs in a cow herds as a result of the endophyte.

This tool of using novel fescue for addressing the problem, combined with other measures, can be a huge benefit for a farm operation. There are farms that have weaning weight data on calves that show major improvements in gain after cattle started grazing novel fescues. Contact your nearest extension field specialist in agronomy if you have specific questions on how to convert to a novel fescue.  

~ Tim Schnakenberg, Field Specialist Missouri, see more info on novel fescue at https://grasslandrenewal.org/

World Alfalfa Congress to be held in San Diego, California, USA 14-17 November 2022

Hay and silage farmers, scientists, and forage industry professionals from around the world will gather in San Diego, California this November for a four-day session to talk all things alfalfa. The purpose of the World Alfalfa Congress is to share knowledge, new research data, and industry trends this important crop. 

Alfalfa is one of the most important forage crops in the world and the fourth most valuable field crop in the United States as of 2022. Alfalfa is a crucial part of the agricultural landscape, as it is grown on over 16 million acres in the US and is important in many other countries. World trade in alfalfa hay has increased in recent years, with a strong interest in Asia, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

The Congress is co-sponsored by a wide range of organizations from around the world: National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA-US), California Alfalfa & Forage Association (CAFA-US); UC Davis (US); USDA-ARS (US); China Grasslands Association (China); China Alfalfa Industry Association (China); INRAE (France); INTA (Argentina); CIDE (EU); China Agricultural University (Beijing); and AEFA (Spain).

Program topics include economic and ecological importance of alfalfa, genetics and breeding, agronomic practices, exports, soil fertility, weeds, pests and diseases, forage machinery, new uses, forage quality, equipment, irrigation, water, and environmental aspects.

The Congress features a one-day training on pest management and irrigation for practitioners, as well as two days of technical presentations. The program also features a full day touring the Imperial Valley, an important alfalfa-growing area in Southern California. The tour will feature year-round alfalfa production, irrigation methods, research plots, hay and seed exports, environmental issues, winter vegetable production, and equipment displays.

For general information or to register, exhibit or to submit papers-https://worldalfalfacongress.ucdavis.edu/. Direct contacts: Beth Nelson (nafa@alfalfa.org) or Nicole Helms (Nicole@agamsi.com)

Pub of the Month: Kentucky Corn Silage Hybrid Performance Report, 2021

Corn hybrids were evaluated for silage performance on cooperating farms. Representatives from numerous seed companies submitted their best silage hybrids for the trials.  University of Kentucky staff planted the hybrid seeds. Farmers applied the soil amendments and pest management. UK staff also harvested and weighed  the material for silage yield. All samples were ground and sent off for quality analysis. All yield and quality information is found in the final report which can be downloaded here.

Does Lightning Help Grass Grow?

Some of you may have heard that a thunderstorm results in greener grass. That may or may not be exactly true since much of the green likely comes from water  helping the plant grow. It is true though that a storm’s electrical display contributes to plant nutrition and  helps to some degree with the growth of grass. The connection might seem hard to grasp – what does a flash of lightning contribute to the health of grass? – but it’s actually fairly straightforward, and an example of one of the planet’s fundamental, life-sustaining physical cycles.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plants and other organisms, being a fundamental part of nucleic acids, amino acids and proteins, not to mention the photosynthesizing plant pigment called chlorophyll. It’s also the single most abundant gas in the Earth’s atmosphere, accounting for about 78 percent of its composition. (Oxygen is the second-most abundant atmospheric gas, at about 20 percent.)

Despite that abundance, atmospheric nitrogen (N2) isn’t readily available to most lifeforms with the exception of blue-green algae, some free living soil bacteria and rhizobia bacteria in nodules of legume roots. All other organisms require nitrogen to be transformed, or “fixed,” into more reactive compounds such as nitrates (NO3) or ammonia (NH3) before they can use it for biological growth and processes.

The process by which nitrogen is converted into a usable form is called nitrogen fixation. Rhizobia bacteria are by far the most significant source of biological nitrogen fixation. Atmospheric fixation is another way nitrogen gas can be transformed into nitrates and ammonia. Humans also artificially accomplish nitrogen fixation in the industrial production of fertilizers but nature does this for free through lightning.

The tremendous heat released by a bolt of lightning – some 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly five times the temperature of the sun’s surface – can split apart a nitrogen molecule to free up two nitrogen atoms. A liberated nitrogen atom can then bond with oxygen atoms to form nitrogen oxides that, dissolving into raindrops, become nitrates. The lightning-freed nitrogen may also bond with atmospheric hydrogen to form ammonia. These soluble nitrogen compounds then fall to the Earth in rainfall, providing a natural, lightning-produced fertilizer for grass and other plants.

When you consider that some 40 lightning bolts flash over the (mighty stormy) Earth every second, you get a sense for the significance of this atmospheric nitrogen fixation, even if it’s overall less important than biological fixation. It’s been estimated that lightning produces roughly 13,000 tons of nitrates each day around the globe. Now before you stop planting legumes or stop applying N fertilizer, remember that 13,000 tons spread around the globe every day equals only about 10 lbs/acre per year on your farm in Kentucky via lightning.

There’s no question that lightning provides a source of nitrogen useful for growing grass. Heavy downpours from a thunderstorm may also simply wash dust off grass leaves, resulting in greener grass. ~ adapted from article by Ethan Shaw, Sciencing.com, Sept. 2021.

Forage Timely Tips: April

  • Graze winter annuals that were inter-seeded into thin pastures last fall.
  • Graze cover crops using temporary fencing.
  • As pasture growth begins, rotate through pastures quickly to keep up with the fast growth of spring.
  • Creep-graze calves and lambs, allowing them access to highest-quality pasture.
  • Finish re-seeding winter feeding sites where soil disturbance and sod damage occurred.
  • As pasture growth exceeds the needs of the livestock, remove some fields from the rotation and allow growth to accumulate for hay or haylage.
  • Determine need for supplemental warm season forages such as sudangrass or pearl millet.
  • Flash graze pastures newly seeded with clovers to manage competition.

Monensin Promotes Growth, Lower Bloat Risk

Ionophores such as monensin have been a part of the beef production landscape for nearly 50 years. Their value as a performance enhancer in finishing cattle is well documented. Ionophores can also be used for grazing stocker cattle and mature cows to improve rumen fermentation characteristics and performance.

    “Ionophores select against gram-positive bacteria and protozoa in the rumen,” explains Kim Mullenix, an extension beef specialist with Auburn University. “When these bacteria are controlled, the rumen fermentation environment becomes more efficient because fewer waste products, such as methane, are produced.” She continues, “This also creates a favorable environment for more desirable bacteria to grow, producing fermentation products that enhance the overall energy status and feed efficiency of the animal.”

    Shane Gadberry, a beef nutrition extension specialist with the University of Arkansas, recently conducted a meta-analysis that summarized the performance of monensin in pastured stocker cattle on high-forage diets.

“With an average initial body weight of 518 pounds, the average monensin response was estimated to be a 23.3-pound increase in average ending body weight with an average trial duration of 112-days,” writes Gadberry in a recent issue of Arkansas’ Beef Cattle Research Update.

    In addition to performance, some studies also measured differences in bloat incidence. In total, these found that monensin reduced the number of bloat cases by 20 percentage units.

~Article by Mike Rankin in eHay Weekly. Go to hayandforage.com for free subscription to Hay & Forage Grower magazine and the weekly eHay Weekly email.