By now we have grown 75 percent plus of our warm-season forage for 1997. This means it's time to begin estimating how much forage we have available and how to best utilize it. If you have enough forage to last until the spring of 1998, then all you need to do is develop a supplementation program. However, most of us are not in this situation and will have to feed hay or grow additional forage.
Additional forage can be grown by applying 50 pounds of actual nitrogen (N) per acre to introduced pastures such as Bermudagrass, Plains bluestem, or Weeping lovegrass from August 15-September 1. This should produce another 12-1,500 pounds of forage per acre at a cost of $15 per acre. 1,500 pounds of forage should support one cow for about 45 days. With Fescue, the addition of 50 pounds of actual N should yield about 2000-2500 pounds of forage per acre.
Something else to think about is how to best utilize our standing forage. Following is a list of the common forages grown in our area. They are also listed in the order I would recommend their use by a dry cow grazing during the winter:
- Crabgrass is an annual, warm-season forage which is highly palatable but does not stockpile well for standing forage in the winter. Crabgrass should be utilized by mid-October or it will lay down when we get out first cool, wet spell in the fall.
- Bermudagrass is a perennial, warm-season forage that can be used as a standing forage well into the winter if managed properly (fall fertilized and/or plenty of leafy material available for grazing) and supplemented with protein adequately. The more efficient your grazing management, the longer Bermudagrass will last. The problem with Bermuda is that it tends to lay down more during wet falls and where livestock have access to all of the pasture at one time (trample damage).
- Plains bluestem/Weeping lovegrass are both perennial warm-season forages which stockpile well and should last well into the winter with adequate protein supplement.
- Nativegrass in good condition not only stockpiles well, it also offers a diversity of grazing for livestock. However, protein supplements are still necessary.
- Fescue is a cool-season, perennial forage which stockpiles well and offers high quality grazing all winter long. Protein supplements are generally not necessary.
The key to managing for and grazing any stockpiled forage is to have plenty of leaf material available for livestock to graze. Too often, we expect our livestock to graze unpalatable plant parts (stems) to meet their energy needs causing cow condition to decline. Also, proper protein supplementation is an essential requirement to effectively utilize any dry, standing forage.