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Take Advantage of Available Soil Moisture

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What a summer we have had in 2007! Most of us had already received our annual precipitation by the second week of July. Excess rainfall this summer may have caused a few problems with hay harvest, but there has not been too much complaining. The wet summer has provided excellent soil moisture conditions for both warm-season and cool-season forage production this fall.

Stockpiling bermudagrass through the fall is a good way to lengthen the grazing season by utilizing standing forage in the field during the late fall and early winter, rather than feeding hay. To implement, select pastures with an average stubble height of 3 to 5 inches and fertilize with at least 50 pounds actual nitrogen (i.e., 150 pounds 34-0-0) per acre by mid-September. Defer grazing until late fall or first frost. To replace feeding one 1,200- pound bale of hay requires grazing 1,600 pounds of dry-standing stockpiled bermudagrass per acre (grazed with at least 60 percent harvest efficiency). If growing conditions are favorable, expect to produce a ton of bermudagrass forage per acre, which is enough standing forage to support one cow for one month. The quality of dry-standing bermudagrass remains extremely high well after it is dormant. It is not uncommon to have bermudagrass with 8 to 11 percent crude protein into January. Stockpiled bermudagrass fits well with a spring-calving herd since cows are pregnant but not lactating during this period.

For most producers, the ideal time to plant small grain pasture is dependent on soil moisture conditions. As a result, planting dates range from early September through the end of October. This fall, take advantage of good soil moisture conditions and be ready to plant in early September. Expect to lose 30-60 pounds of forage production per acre for every day planting is delayed after the optimum date.

For example, if the optimum planting date is Sept. 1 and planting is delayed until Sept. 30, one could give up 1,800 pounds of forage production per acre (30 days x 60 pounds forage production loss/day). A rule of thumb is that it requires 8 pounds of forage to yield 1 pound of beef (gain). If you own the cattle and the value of added gain is $0.55 per pound, loss of opportunity would be $123.75 per acre (1,800 lbs. forage/ac. ÷ 8 lbs. forage/lb. gain x $0.55/lb. gain). If taking cattle in on the gain with a custom care rate of $0.38 per pound of gain, loss of opportunity would be $85.50 per acre (1,800 lbs. forage/ac. ÷ 8 lbs. forage/pound gain x $0.38/lb. gain). From this example, one can see the economic importance of planting early and capitalizing on small grain fall forage production.

Take advantage of the good soil moisture conditions Mother Nature provided this summer for fall forage production. If you should have any questions regarding fall forage production or grazing management, do not hesitate to call your Noble Research Institute soils and crops or pasture and range specialist.