Fall grazing sins impact future forage growth

No time is a good time to abuse pastures by overgrazing, shortening rest periods, or overstocking, but fall is an especially bad time for such agrarian offenses. “Management decisions made during the fall affect the ability of the plants to overwinter, determine when new growth is initiated in the spring, and impacts how much total forage growth will be produced over the following season,” says Gene Pirelli, professor emeritus in animal and rangeland sciences with Oregon State University.

Spring Regrowth on Sod dug from a rested pasture and overgrazed pasture (the full timelapse video is available on the KY Forages YouTube Channel under the Timelapse Forage Video Playlist)

When pastures are overgrazed or subjected to excessive forage harvesting in the fall, it inhibits root system rebuilding and the formation of shoots for spring growth. Pirelli explains that roots regenerate in the fall while potential new shoots are also in the process of forming. Plants need time to store carbohydrates to ensure long-term forage production.

“The lower stems or crown, rather than the roots, are the major storage unit of complex carbohydrates in perennial grasses,” Pirelli states. “The new root system will take up water from the soil plus important nutrients that nurture those new growing points. Both plant systems must work together to sustain pasture growth in the next grazing season.”

The actual time it takes for new root growth varies depending upon the amount of moisture from irrigation or rainfall, daylength, and the residual stubble height. New plant roots are evident if plants are dug up and washed free of any soil. The new roots will be white, variable in length, and originate from the crown.

Plant growing points develop in the fall, which provide next spring’s forage growth. Pirelli contrasts these young grass shoots, or tillers, to human babies — both need a steady supply of nutrients and protection from stress. In the fall, nutrients are supplied from the previous season’s tillers, which have stored carbohydrates in the bottom 3 to 4 inches of the plant. The existing tillers are often dormant and brown during fall — but not dead — and their storage function is critical. The older tillers also provide physical protection to the new tillers.

If pastures are grazed or mowed lower than a 3- to 4-inch stubble height in the fall, the plant’s carbohydrate reserves are reduced, and the new tillers are robbed of their food source. Also, the new tillers are exposed to weather extremes. Overgrazing also slows or stops root formation, and in the following spring, the new tillers  grow slower and have fewer roots for needed nutrients.

Grass species vary in how sensitive they are to grazing or cutting height. The following recommendations provide a minimum residual height for some common grass species: Orchardgrass and Tall Fescue: 3 to 4 inches; KY Bluegrass: 2 to 3 inches; Perennial ryegrass: 2 inches; Timothy: 4 to 6 inches.

~Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower. Go to hayandforage.com for more articles.

If you stockpile, then do this

Stockpiling forage for late fall and winter grazing has rightfully become a widely accepted practice. It’s not difficult to find producers “border-to-border and coast-to-coast” employing this practice, although the type of forage may differ. To get full benefit from stockpiled forage, regardless of species used, it’s also universally accepted to strip graze rather than just open a gate to the wide-open spaces. One often-cited Missouri research trial found that giving cows enough forage for three days instead of 14 days resulted in a 40% boost in grazing days per acre.

Using strip grazing can result in forage utilization values of over 80%, not counting a 3-inch residual. Achieving such efficiency levels will help keep a lot of purchased or produced hay from being fed. As a general rule, warm-season grasses or mixed-legume stands need to be strip-grazed first. These forage types tend to lose quality fastest after several killing frosts.

Tall fescue, although it will lose some quality through the winter, seems to hold up the best. As when strip grazing is used during the summer, the practice nearly eliminates animal selectivity.

Strip grazing takes some planning. It works best to start closest to the water source and then work across the field. Set up posts and polywire (or a fence wheel) across the field to allocate enough forage for one to three days. The shorter the time allotment, the higher the forage utilization will be. Nutrient spreading from manure will also be more uniform.

With no additional growth in the winter, most producers do not utilize a back fence to keep cattle off previously grazed areas. This also allows animals to utilize a single water source. As many beginning strip grazers have learned by experience, it is a good idea to set a second polywire for the next move ahead of the current one. In other words, as one length of polywire comes down, there should already be another one in place.

Given the modern state of fence technology, putting up and taking down a strand of polywire requires a relatively small amount of time. The economic return in terms of much greater forage utilization and grazing days is hard to dispute. It also offers the opportunity to keep a close eye on cattle during the winter months. ~ Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower.

Fall Fencing School Registration is Now Open

This fall, the University of Kentucky will host two regional fencing schools to help livestock producers learn about the newest and most sound techniques to build fences. The schools are Nov. 1 at the Marion County Cooperative Extension Office in Lebanon and Nov. 3 at the Clay County Cooperative Extension office in Manchester. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. EDT. Classes throughout the day include fencing construction basics, fencing types, costs, fencing laws and more.  

Chris Teutsch points out that one of the main goals of this school is to teach people basic fence construction. Then they can build a strong, long-lasting fence that will last 25 or 30 years, or if they decide to hire a contractor to build it for them, they will at least know what a well-built fence looks like.

UK specialists and fencing industry experts will teach producers how to install both fixed-knot, woven wire fencing and smooth electrified, high-tensile fencing.  

Participants will learn through a combination of classroom sessions and hands-on demonstrations. If producers choose to participate in cost-share programs, they can use the skills learned to construct fences that meet Natural Resources Conservation Service specifications. 

Each school costs $30 person and has a 30-participant limit. Organizers urge producers to sign up early. The registration fee includes morning refreshments, a catered lunch, a fencing notebook, safety glasses and hearing protection. To sign up, visit http://www.forages.ca.uky.edu/events. The registration deadline is two weeks before each workshop. 

Forage Timely Tips: September

– If not already done, soil sample and apply fertilizer as needed.
– Plant perennial grasses and legumes. Consider using a novel endophyte tall fescue. 
– Harvest hay as needed.  Do NOT harvest alfalfa after mid-September.
– Scout pastures, identify perennial weeds and woody brush.  Consult an agricultural professional to determine the control strategy.
– Closely monitor livestock and do NOT overgraze. Pasture plants accumulate energy reserves in the fall that help them overwinter and regrow in the spring. 
– Feed hay to allow pastures to stockpile for winter grazing. 
– Rest native warm-season grass fields until after frost for better winter survival. 

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 (https://forages.ca.uky.edu 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.