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 seedheads.
  • Rotate pastures based on height rather than time. 
  • Consider temporary electric fencing to subdivide larger pastures and save areas for hay.   
  • Scout pastures for summer annual weeds and control when the weeds are small.

Making an Old Fence Work!

Good fences let you sleep at night! One of the biggest challenges when renting pastureland is marginal perimeter fencing.  It is very hard to justify the investment in new fencing if you are on a short-term lease.  One option is to install an electrified offset on the interior of the perimeter fence (Figure 1).  This works especially well with old woven wire fences.  The electrified offset 1) helps to contain livestock, 2) extends the life of the existing fence by keeping animal pressure off of it, and 3) provides a source of electricity for further subdividing pastures with temporary fencing.  Lastly, offsets can be easily removed and taken with you if the lease doesn’t work out.  

Since electric fencing is a psychological barrier (nothing likes to get shocked) it needs to deliver a knee bending, eye watering jolt preferably to the moist nose of the animal.  It is imperative that the animal’s first experience with electric fencing be a really painful one.  For this to occur, offsets need to be installed correctly.  If you take your time and install electric fencing correctly, it can be an extremely effective tool to control livestock.  If you cut corners and use cheap materials or materials not designed for electric fencing, it can be an extremely frustrating experience.  The objective of this article is to provide you with some practical tips for installing offsets that can effectively control livestock and extend the life of an old fence.  

Use good quality offsets.  Make sure that plastic components in the offsets that you use are UV stabilized.  Saving a few pennies now can result in a real headache as plastic components start to breakdown in the sunlight.

Use 170,000 PSI high tensile wire with a Class III galvanization.  This wire is corrosion resistant, able to be hand tied, and economical.  A good quality high tensile wire will cost about 2.5 cents/ft.  One installed, fence should be tensioned just tight enough to take the slack out.    

Mount offsets at nose height of the livestock that you are trying to control.  The height of the offset is important since your goal is to shock the animal in the face.  For cattle this will be around 30 inches off the ground.  

Use twist on offsets for woven and barbed wire fences.  The offsets consist of two galvanized legs that are twisted onto the existing fence holding the electrified offset approximately 10 inches from the existing fencing.  One advantage of these offsets is that they move with the existing fencing reducing the chances of the electrified wire coming in contact with the old fence (Figure 2).  They are also easy to install and take off.

Use wood post offsets at beginning and end of runs and on problem posts.  I like to use a more rigid wood post offset at the beginning and end of runs.  This helps to get the offset wire away from the existing fencing (Figure 3).  I also like to use these offsets on problem posts with in the run, like old railroad ties that have the existing fencing wrapped around them (Figure 4).  

Start and end runs with an end strain or bullnose insulator designed for high tensile fencing.  These insulators are designed for the tension exerted by high tensile fencing (Figure 5).  They are constructed of either reinforced UV stabilized plastic or porcelain.   If the electrified offset is close to the existing fence at the start and end of runs, install the bull nose insulator 4 to 6 ft from the end post.  

Use a good quality double insulated cable designed for electric fencing for lead-out, jumping wires or going underneath gates.  Never use residential wire for electric fencing.  This wire is designed to carry 120 volts NOT 10,000.   

Always place underground wires in protective tubing. Whenever a cable carrying current is run under the ground, always place it in some type pipe or conduit that will protect it from future damage. Wires going under gates should be buried to a depth of approximately 6 to 12 inches. If not protected, breaks will occur in these wires and these shorts can be difficult to find and repair. I like to use pvc electrical conduit and secure it to post with a clamp (Figure 6).  The larger the conduit, the easier it is to push the double insulated cable through it.  I prefer to use ¾ or I-inch piping in most situations.  I also like to drill a hole in an end cap just large enough to slip the wire through and simply push the end cap onto the conduit with NO glue.  

Make all connections with clamps. Loose connections result loss of voltage. Connections should NOT be wrapped, but rather clamped together with a high-quality clamp that is designed for high tensile fencing (Figure 7). Never use clamps that are constructed of dissimilar metals. Although economy clamps constructed of cast metal are sometimes available, they often fail upon tightening. Saving a few cents on clamps often leads to exponential headaches in the future.

Use a doughnut or bull nose insulator secured to a wood post to make gentle turns.  Gentle turns where the offset wire pulls to the inside of the pasture can be make using a doughnut type or bull nose insulator secured to a stable post (Figure 8).  NEVER use wrap around insulators.  They almost always fail prematurely resulting in hard to find shorts.  

Use heavy duty wood post insulators to make gentle turns.  Gentle turns that pull toward to the outside of the pasture can be made by securing one or more heavy duty wood post insulators to a stable post.  In cases where the offset wire is too close to the old fencing, a treated 2 x 4” can be secured to the post with deck screws and the insulators can then be screwed to the board (Figure 9).  

Use a high-quality energizer.  Energizers are the heart of electric fencing systems and are NOT a component that you should try to “save” money on.  If electrical service is available, plug in energizers are considerably more powerful and offer the best value in terms of cost to power ratio. For remote areas, solar or battery powered energizers are viable alternatives for smaller acreages. Power comparisons of energizers should be done using “stored energy” which is measured in joules.  One accessory that I cannot do without is an energizer that has a remote control that allows you to shut the fence off from anywhere.  Once you have one, you will wonder how you ever got along without it!   

Proper grounding is essential. For an electric fencing to work properly, current from the fence must travel through the animal into the ground and back to the energizer. The grounding system on the energizer works as an “antenna” to collect this current and complete the circuit. Most of the problems associated with low voltage on an electric fence are caused by a poorly constructed grounding system. Grounding systems should have a minimum of 3 galvanized grounding rods, 10 ft apart, 6 ft in the ground, all connected with a single galvanized wire running from the energizer. For very large energizers or very dry conditions more grounding rods may be needed.

The above tips will help you install offsets capable of controlling all classes of livestock.  However, for these offsets to work properly they should be kept “hot” at all times and vegetation below them must be controlled.  This means that someone, preferably not you, will be manning a string trimmer this summer! ~ Dr. Chris Teutsch. Based on article in Cow Country News.

Figure 1.  Electrified offsets can breathe new life into an old fence.  They control livestock, extend the life of an existing fence, and allow for further subdivisions using temporary fencing.   

Figure 2.  Twist on offsets are easy to install and remove and are ideal for older fences since they move with the fencing material reducing the chances of shorts.  

Figure 3.  Wood post offsets are more rigid making them a good choice to install at the beginning and end of runs where there will be more pressure pushing back against them.  

Figure 4.  Wood post offsets are a good option for getting the hot wire away from posts that protrude and are littered with old fence.

Figure 5.  The beginning and ends of runs should be terminated using a bull nose insulator designed for high tensile fencing.  

Figure 6.  Double insulated lead out wire going under gates should always be placed in a pvc pipe to protect it from breaks.  

Figure 7.  Make all connections using a high-quality galvanized clamp.  Wrapping wires results in loose connections causing voltage losses.  

Figure 8.  Doughnut or bullnose insulators can be used to make gentle bends in the offset that pull toward the inside of the pasture.  

Figure 9.  Gentle bends that pull toward the outside of the pasture can be made using heavy-duty wood post insulators.  If the electrified offset is too close to the existing fence, then a treated 2 x 4 board can be mounted to the post.  

International Grassland Congress History Book is Now Available to Order or to Download Electronically

In 1927, recognizing the importance of grasslands in food security, a group of 16 scientists, from seven European countries, met in Leipzig, Germany to seek ways to improve grassland agriculture and communication among grassland scientists. Close to 100 years later, their efforts have evolved into the International Grassland Congress, an event attended by about 1000 delegates representing more than 80 countries.

Using first-hand accounts of those who lived through its history, this book traces the origin and development of the International Grassland Congress. It also gives insight on how historical events, organizational changes, and technical advances are affecting the event and grassland science as a whole. However, despite shifting priorities and technology, many basic principles, methods, and objectives emerging from the early research in grassland agriculture remain relevant today.

Written by Vivien Allen, Roger Wilkins, Garry  Lacefield, and Ray Smith. Download or purchase here.

Pub of the Month: Baling Forage Crops for Silage

Forage may be stored for winter feeding when pasture production is limited, for use in confinement feeding systems, or for cash hay. Dry hay is the most popular storage method since it stores well for long periods and is better suited to cash sale and shipping than high moisture forages. However, silage may be more suitable in situations where hay curing is difficult. It is possible to make high quality silage or haylage using long (unchopped) forage crops baled with large round balers, al-though balers may need modification to handle wet material. Download the full publication here.

Line up Warm Season Annual Grass Varieties Now

Warm season annual grasses should not be planted until after there is no risk of frost, but seed supplies have be tight in recent years. Therefore, make sure to contact your seed dealer and order your seed now for May plantings. We also begun testing warm season annuals for forage quality through Chris Teutsch’s lab in Princeton. Special thanks to Chris and his crew for grinding and running these samples through the NIRS. See the tables below for Forage Quality of the warm season annual varieties that we tested last year of Sudangrass, Sorghum-Sudangrass, Pearl Millet, and Teff.

Go to the “Variety Trial” Tab on the Forage Website to download the complete 2020 Annual Grass Report: Warm Season and Cool Season (Cereals). This report contains 3 years of yield information for all these species and for forage sorghum. At the back of this report is a summary table showing how numerous varieties have performed in KY over the last 15 years.

Breaking News: Alfalfa Weevil Populations Exploding

According to UK Extension Entomologists Ric Bessin and Raul Villanueva recent warm weather has resulted in the emergence of alfalfa weevil larva across the Commonwealth.  It is critical that alfalfa growers scout fields immediately and prepare to apply insecticides as soon as the economic thresholds have been reached.  For more information on alfalfa weevil scouting and control, please visit the Kentucky Pest News website and see ENTFACT-127: Alfalfa Weevil Field Sampling Program.   

Photo: Alfalfa weevil damage and actual weevils collected from three alfalfa stem terminals at the University of Kentucky Grain and Forage Center of Excellence in Princeton, KY.   Photo by Raul Villanueva  

Begin scouting for alfalfa weevils when the growing degree days in your county reach 190 or more. You can calculate GDD at the following UK Ag Weather website.

Dates for UK Spring Fencing School

Spring fencing schools will be offered on May 11th in Hopkinsville and May 13th in Owensboro. Both events include topics such as Fencing types and costs, Fence construction basics, Electric fencing basics, Innovations in fencing technologies and hands-on fence building. Cost is $30 to attend and includes supplies, educational materials and lunch. All Covid rules will apply. Register here.

Forage Timely Tips: April

  • 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 pearl millet or sudangrass.
  • Flash graze pastures newly seeded with clovers to manage competition.

Making a Plan for Improved Hay Quality

This winter at the Forages at the KCA Symposium, I presented a summary of ten years of hay testing results from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s forage testing program.  I would like to thank Kim Field from the KDA for allowing us to use this dataset and her long and faithful service to the forage and livestock industry in the Commonwealth.  This sample set included more than 14,000 hay samples.  The full presentation along with the other presentations given as part of this symposium can be viewed on the KYForages YouTube Channel.  The results of this analysis showed that only 12% of the samples tested would meet the energy requirements of a lactating brood cow (Figure 1).  As most of you know, body condition at calving is closely related to reproductive efficiency in cow-calf operations. 


Figure 1.  Proportion of hay samples tested at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture over a ten-year period (2007-17) that would meet the energy (total digestible nutrients) requirement of various classes of beef cattle.  Only 12% of these samples would meet the energy requirements of a lactating brood cow. 

Practical Considerations for Improving Hay Quality

I would like to challenge you to think about simple and practical ways to improve hay quality on your farm and then formulate a plan for implementing these practices.  Below you will find a list of practical considerations for improving hay quality.

Fertilize and lime according to soil test.  A balanced fertility program is essential for optimizing hay production.  Phosphorus, potassium, and lime should be applied according to soil test results.  Avoid using “complete” fertilizers such as 19-19-19.  In hay production, these fertilizers commonly over apply phosphorus and under apply potash.  More information on soil sampling can be found in AGR-252, Soil Sampling Hayfields and Pastures. 

Apply nitrogen early to promote rapid spring growth.  Applying 60-80 lb N/A in mid- to late March will promote early growth in hay meadows, resulting in higher first harvest yields.  

Harvest at the boot stage.  The single most important factor impacting forage quality is stage of maturity at harvest.  Hayfields should be mowed as soon as the grass reaches the boot-stage.  By making the first cutting in a timely manner, we will have time to make a leafy second cutting just prior to the summer months.

Stage of MaturityCrude ProteinDry Matter IntakeDigestibilityAverage Daily Gain
 %lb/day%lb/day
Late boot13.813.0681.39
Early bloom10.211.7660.97
Seed forming7.68.6560.42
Table 1. Impact of stage of maturity on the crude protein, dry matter intake, digestibility and average daily gain of stocker calves.

· Mow early in the day.  Some studies have shown that sugars are highest in late afternoon. However, in high rainfall environments like Kentucky, maximizing curing time is the highest priority.  Therefore, hay should be mowed in mid to late morning after the dew has dried off.      

· Use mower-conditioner.  Conditioning the stems allows for moisture to escape at a faster rate.  This shortens curing time and improves your chances of avoiding rain.  Conditioning is especially important on first cutting grasses, summer annual grasses, and legumes, all of which tend to have larger stems. 

· Set swath on mower-conditioner to the widest possible setting.  Maximizing the swath width decreases curing or wilting time by exposing a larger portion of the forage to direct sunlight. 

· Rake or ted at 40-50% moisture content.  Raking and tedding the forage while it is still pliable reduces leaf loss and maintain forage quality.  Once the moisture content is below 40%, leaf loss increases, especially in legumes such as alfalfa and clover.  

· Bale at 18-20% moisture.  Baling in this moisture range inhibits mold growth and reduces heating.  Avoid baling hay that is excessively dry due to high levels of leaf loss and hay that is above 20% moisture due to heating and potential hay fires (unless a preservative is used).

· Store under cover and off the ground.  Protecting hay from weathering helps to reduce dry matter losses and maintain forage quality.  Much of the weathering damage is a result of the hay bale wicking moisture up from the ground.  So, storing hay off the ground on a stone pad can greatly reduce deterioration.

· Do not cut hay fields too close.  If not properly adjusted, disc mowers can cut very close to the soil surface and this can cause significant as damage to cool-season grass stands.  Do NOT mow perennial cool-season grass stands closer than 3-4 inches. 

· Apply nitrogen following the first cutting.  Following a timely first harvest, apply 50-60 lb N/A to stimulate regrowth.  With adequate rainfall, a high quality second harvest can be made approximately 30 days after the first harvest. 

· Allow hayfields to go into summer with some regrowth.  Make sure to allow cool-season hayfields to go into summer with at least 5-6 inches of regrowth.  This will shade the crown of the plant, moderating its temperature, reduce soil moisture losses, and reduce germination of annual weeds.

· Apply nitrogen in late summer.  As the temperatures moderate in late summer and early fall, apply 60 lb N/A to stimulate fall growth.  This growth can be grazed or harvested as needed. 

· Allow plants time to replenish carbohydrates in the fall.  Make sure and time fall hay cuttings to allow stand to regrow and replenish their carbohydrates prior to winter dormancy. 

· Test hay and supplement accordingly.  Testing hay  provides the information needed to develop a supplementation strategy that will keep condition on cows and for marketing hay.  For more information on hay testing see AGR-257 Hay Sampling: Strategies for Getting a Good Sample.  

It is important to realize that the even the best made plans do not always workout as designed.  Extended periods of rainfall that delay harvest, pop-up summer showers that soak an almost perfect hay crop, and equipment failures can all throw a wrench into a well-designed plan.  The key to success is moving forward with a positive attitude that allows you to find your way around these roadblocks.  ~Dr. Chris Teutsch for Cow Country News.

KY Grazing Calendars are available

Temporary fencing can help to manage spring growth in cool-season pastures. Purchasing high quality UV stabilized polywire with mixed metal strands ensure both longevity and performance of the fence. Photo by: Jimmy Henning

Get your copy from your local county extension office or download here.