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Winter Pasture Options Following Drought Conditions

Posted Sep. 1, 1998

The drought conditions of this spring and summer have left our forage resources for this fall and winter in short supply. The surrounding states have supplied hay to many producers in Oklahoma and Texas. Cattle herds have been culled, sold down, and dispersed. For those still looking for additional hay, the Noble Research Institute Hay Directory is updated on a regular basis and is available upon request.

In addition, there are several website addresses for hay listings being compiled by Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and possibly others by press time. Speaking of hay, have you tested your hay for protein and energy? If not, I encourage you to do so before you make plans to book your winter supplement. The analysis will indicate the supplemental feed needs for a given group of cattle for each hay tested. For more information about testing hay, interpreting an analysis, or feeding recommendations, contact an extension specialist or a Noble Research Institute forage or livestock specialist.

Another forage option available to producers this fall is overseeding the warm season pastures with a cool season forage, assuming we have adequate moisture conditions at planting. With our summer pastures being grazed short, early establishment is very possible and would thus facilitate fall forage production.

A cool season forage could be used to supplement cows and grow retained, purchased, or gain stockers by Jeff Ball. The next few paragraphs will discuss some cool season annual grass forage options along with some management considerations. Variety recommendations are based on Dr. Jerry Baker's results and observations from the Noble Research Institute variety trials.

Wheat provides the most flexibility as a crop. It can serve as a forage crop and grain crop simultaneously, if managed properly. Wheat is considered a winter-hardy cool season annual grass, although it is not as winter hardy as rye. It produces well on a wide range of soils, with very sandy soils being the exception. Most of the production occurs in the spring, peaking in mid-April. Wheat produces more forage than rye in the spring, but its fall and winter production is usually less. Soft red winter wheat varieties are more consistent than the hard red winter wheat varieties in south central Oklahoma. Consistent forage producing varieties in the Noble Research Institute winter variety trials are: Soft Red Winter - Coker 9134, Coker 9543, Coker 9663, Coker 9803, Florida 302; Hard Red Winter - Jagger, 2163, Custer, Longhorn, Coronado.

Rye is the most winter hardy of the annual winter pasture grasses. Compared to other annual winter grasses, rye produces more fall and winter forage. It matures earlier in the spring than most wheats - usually peaking in early April. Rye is the most productive cool season annual grass on soils low in fertility, well-drained, and sandy in texture. All forage ryes have similar growth. The Noble Research Institute releases are the most popular in the region. Oklon is usually the earliest forage producer. Other varieties are: Elbon, Bonel, Maton, and Bates.

Oat is the least winter-hardy cool season annual grass with the early plantings more susceptible to winter-kill than later plantings. Oats can be planted in early fall or late winter. Keep in mind that forage production can be variable with oats. Oats do not grow well on sandy soils, but tolerate wet, poorly drained soils better than other small grains. Early forage producing varieties are: 811, Harrison, and Nora. The most cold tolerant varieties are Ozark and 833.

Ryegrass is adaptable to a wide range of soil types, growing better on wet soils than most other cool season annual grasses. It can be easily established by simply broadcasting seed on the soil surface or on grass sod. Ryegrass matures later than other small grains, extending the grazing season into the month of June. For this reason, ryegrass is the most productive cool season annual grass in our region. It also has excellent reseeding ability if properly managed. Ryegrass is not as cold or drought tolerant as rye and wheat. When considering varieties, Marshall ryegrass has been a very consistent forage producer with good cold tolerance. Other varieties with early maturity but perhaps less cold tolerance are: TAM 90, Surrey, Jackson, Rio, Southern Star, and Gulf.

Barley and Triticale are cool season annual grasses, but are not as widely used. Barley is most noted for being tolerant of saline and alkaline soils. It does not grow well on sandy soils, but is drought tolerant. Barley is not as winter-hardy as wheat or rye. Triticale is a "cross" between wheat and rye. Its forage production and distribution is similar to wheat. Triticale is early maturing and susceptible to winter-kill.

Mixtures of small grains with ryegrass work well to extend the grazing season. Although the planting depth of ryegrass is shallower than small grains it can be mixed directly into the seed box with the small grains. Best results occur on prepared seedbeds, but with pastures being grazed short this season, sod seeding could produce satisfactory results. For more information, contact one of our forage specialists or Dr. Jerry Baker, the Agricultural Division research coordinator.

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