Winter is here again and many of us have already been supplementing our cattle for 60 or more days. The drought we experienced this summer drastically reduced the quantity of forage we typically have going into the winter. Most of us depend on rains in July and August to produce an additional 500 to 1000 pounds of forage per acre and many of us came up short this year.
This forced us to feed a grass-replacing supplement, purchase hay, wean calves early, and/or sell cattle. For those of you who still have forage available, you need to pay particular attention to the quality of the grass. In normal years, grass quality through December and January is good enough that we can get by just fine feeding a 38% - 41% crude protein supplement. However, since very little grass was grown late season due to the drought, the grass you do have was probably produced in late June or early July, which means it is quite mature. And, as most of you already know, maturity is the primary cause of reduced forage quality.
For this reason, many of you will need to consider supplementing with additional energy to maintain body condition. Something else that will have an effect on forage quality will be the amount of rainfall we receive this winter. For those of you who are depending on dry standing forage for your livestock, a wet winter is not what you want to see.
Rainfall on dry standing forage has 3 deleterious effects:
- it reduces forage quality,
- it causes the standing forage to lay down making it unavailable to livestock, and
- moisture/humidity during the cool of the winter increases the animal's need for additional energy.
I don't pretend to know what kind of winter we are going to experience but I have been paying particular attention to Persimmon seeds this year and the majority of them have embryonic leaves shaped like a spoon which calls for a cold snowy winter. I hope I'm wrong.
Another effect of the late season drought will be the weed population next spring. There are few places I have seen where grass is abundant. In fact, most places have already been "grazed out" producing a significant amount of bare ground. In turn, this has allowed many weeds to germinate this fall and will set the stage for increased problems next spring. One positive thing we may gain is the increased performance of cool-season annuals such as Ryegrass, Cheatgrass, Bromegrass, Little Barley etc. from March through May. If you have the ability to rotate livestock through your pastures next spring, I would consider doing so to take advantage of the spring flush as well as making the most of the increased weed population by attempting to utilize them while they are palatable. If you are fertilizing introduced pastures, you might want to consider a spring application of herbicide; otherwise, I would simply make the best of the situation I was in and take advantage of whatever comes my way.
Finally, the past two summer growing seasons have certainly caused all of us to understand the term "effective precipitation". Effective precipitation is the amount of rainfall that becomes available to the plants. We can't control how much and when the rainfall comes but we can be better prepared to "effectively" utilize the moisture we receive by keeping the ground covered with vegetation and litter. Keeping the ground covered is one of the most important principles of range and pasture management. It increases water infiltration, reduces weed populations, maintains soil temperature, reduces erosion, and enhances the breakdown of nutrients. Hopefully, we will experience a more normal precipitation pattern next year and be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor.