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. 

Red Clover as Natural Growth Promoter

Research started several years ago at the USDA-ARS lab in Lexington, KY has found natural plant compounds that will also increase gain-to-feed ratios in ruminants. Some of these compounds come from forage plants. The USDA group discovered an antimicrobial growth promoter in red clover. The compound, called biochanin A, belongs to a family of chemicals called isoflavones that are found in many legumes. Red clover has long been an important pasture legume and high-protein diet component, and the effects of biochanin A might explain the production benefits that go beyond protein content.

Biochanin A promotes the growth of cattle by modulating the activity of bacteria in the rumen, so that protein and amino acids are used more efficiently. In short, biochanin A is kinda like a natural monensin. The Lexington group continue to do research to determine how much red clover must be consumed to provide this extra growth promoter effect.

Remember, red clover is a highly nutritious, high protein legume like white clover and alfalfa. Therefore, unlike monesin which can reduce the potential for bloat, red clover grazed at a lush, vegetative stage increases the chance for bloat.

~Highlights of article by Michael Flythe, Glen Aiken, Brittany Harlow. USDA-ARS. The full article can be downloaded here.

Novel Tall Fescue Renovation Workshops

The Alliance for Grassland Renewal is proud to once again offer virtual and in-person workshops for producers, extension, conservation, and industry professionals.

The 2022 Novel Tall Fescue Renovation Workshop will be held virtually on March 8th, beginning at 6 pm (ET). Registration is just $15 for the 3 hour program and includes a recording of the event. Topics and speakers include Toxicosis and Types (Joe Bouton), Improving Animal Performance (Gabe Pent), Establishment and Management (John Andrae), Seed Quality and Testing (Gene Schmitz), On-Farm Economics (Matt Poore), and a summary and discussion (Ray Smith).

The first of two in-person workshops will be held in Spring Hill, TN at the Middle Tennessee Research and Education Center on March 23rd 2022. This full day event begins at 8:30 CT; registration is $65 and includes lunch, educational materials and hands-on demonstrations. Topics and speakers include: Toxicosis symptoms and causes (Craig Roberts), Toxicosis Management (Gary Bates), Establishment and first year management (John Andrae), Seed quality and testing (Nick Hill), Economics (Matt Poore) and Cost share and incentive programs (Tammy Swithart).

More information and registration for these events and others offered by the Alliance for Grassland Renewal can be found at https://grasslandrenewal.org/workshops/.

Looking for Grazing Articles and Videos?

“On Pasture” is an excellent online monthly publication that also has a big archive of pasture and grazing related articles – about 3,000 right now. They’ve also worked hard to find information and curate a collection that gives graziers what they need right away so they don’t have to spend valuable time searching everywhere. Many of you have probably not even heard about On Pasture before. You can try it out by subscribing to the free option and take ten days to explore content to find out if you’d like to become a paying supporter. Find out more here.

Pub of the Month: Fundamental Principles of Plant Pathology for Agricultural Producers (PPA-41)

All crops grown in Kentucky have the potential to become diseased under the right conditions.  A plant is diseased when it is affected by some agent that interferes with its normal development.  Plant pathology, the study of plant diseases, can be a very confusing subject for many.  This publication presents current basic concepts in plant pathology for growers.Topics include: Infectious Organisms that Cause Diseases, The Disease Triangle, Managing Plant Diseases, Integrated Disease Management, and Sources of Information on Plant Diseases. This publication can be downloaded here.

Forage Timely Tips: March

  • Continue pasture renovation by no-tilling seeding legumes.
  • Place small seed at 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and check depth several times during planting; slow down for more precise seeding.
  • Continue feeding hay until adequate forage exists in the pasture for grazing.
  • Spring seeding of grasses should be done in early to mid-March (but fall is preferred)
  • Begin smoothing and re-seeding hay feeding and heavy traffic areas.
  • Graze pastures overseeded with clover to reduce competition from existing grasses. Pull off before grazing new clover plants.
  • Provide free choice high-magnesium mineral to prevent grass tetany on lush spring growth.