Precipitation records for Carter County, Okla., from 1955 to 2005 have been compiled to develop a long-term precipitation mean and to note deviations from that mean in 2005 and 2006 (Figure 1). In 2005, spring and fall were dry, but above-average rainfall in July and August saved the year. However, the dry fall of 2005 carried over into 2006 with a dry spring and a devastatingly dry summer and fall. October rainfall was back up to the longterm average, which has helped winter pasture growth, but came too late for perennial grass recovery.
Many Noble cooperators ask, "How do I thicken my stand back up?" To begin, assess how much of a stand is left. Bermudagrass will be the easiest. At spring green-up, walk across the field. At each step, note if you step on or are near a bermudagrass plant. If so, then you have enough plants left to work with, but management would dictate that you treat it like a new stand.
In these types of bermudagrass fields, if ryegrass is prevalent, graze or hay to remove canopy cover in May. Control broadleaf weeds with an appropriate chemical at the right weed size with the recommended rate. Soil test and correct phosphorus and potassium, and apply lime if pH is below 5. Limit spring nitrogen rates to no more than 50 pounds per acre of actual N, and delay application until late May or early June so nitrogen will be used by bermudagrass and not cool season annuals that might be present. If recovery warrants, and additional production is needed, more nitrogen can be applied later in the season. Manage grazing pressure; grazing can be used to suppress cool season annual grasses and warm season annuals such as crabgrass.
Use a stock density or grazing period that allows cattle to select for the annuals with minimal grazing to the bermudagrass. Do you add seed? Not into a hybrid stand. If the stand was previously seeded and there are large open areas, adding seed could help, but don't expect a lot of success. If you have areas that are definitely thinner than others, feed hay in them this winter. That is typically a good way to thicken thin spots.
Native range is much harder to assess and involves determining how many of the native desirable forage species remain. If you don't know what species should be on your range site, a county soil survey book can help. If the range site was in good condition to begin with and many desirable species are present but damaged, decreased stocking, rest and rainfall are needed for recovery. Do you add seed? No, the existing seed bank is probably sufficient for recovery if grazing management allows for ample rest. Only in a situation where the majority of desirable species are practically devoid or devoid should you consider reseeding a range site.
Tall fescue took a big hit this summer. Some tall fescue plots in my studies were down to 45 percent to 50 percent stands in October 2006 compared to 95 percent to 100 percent stands in October 2005. However, tall fescue tillers strongly. Even if a plant is reduced to just one tiller, with adequate growing conditions, it will soon multiply, thickening the stand. Tall fescue also will produce a large amount of seed that will germinate and help the stand to increase. Do you add seed? Not until next fall. In the meantime, give an existing stand a chance to recover. If the stand is less than 40 percent, consider reseeding, since tall fescue is pretty easy to get established. If needed, additional seed could be added by no-till.
Drought recovery was not helped this fall, which could lead to an even worse summer for forage production in 2007 than in 2006. Manage your forage resource so it is healthy and can bounce back quickly if rainfall returns to normal.