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Extending the Grazing Season: It's Not Too Late

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This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2005 Ag News and Views newsletter.

It's September and fall is fast approaching. The growing season is winding down, but from a forage production standpoint, an active growing season still lies ahead. For much of the Noble Research Institute's service area, the first hard freeze will occur about Nov. 24, which leaves a good 60 days of growing season for warm-season forages. Cool-season forage growth will occur optimally in a temperature range from 70 to 80 degrees F with some growth occurring as low as 40° F, meaning cool-season forages can conceivably grow through winter in southern Oklahoma and north Texas. Favorable growing temperatures during this period are also accompanied by rain. Average rainfall in Carter County, Okla., for August, September and October from 1971 to 2000 is 11.1 inches. Even with these conditions, hay feeding for some will begin at frost and continue until warm-season grasses green in the spring.


Introduced forages
Bermudagrass, bahiagrass, Old World bluestems and tall fescue are some of the more common forages that can be used for stockpiling. Of these, bermudagrass and tall fescue will work the best due to the quality and the amount of forage they can produce. If stockpiling toxic-endophyte-infected tall fescue, delay use until as late in the season as possible. For introduced forages, ideally select a pasture where previous growth has been removed, and apply nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 50 to 60 lbs/ac. On bermudagrass at this fertility rate, expect about 2,500 lbs/ac accumulation. Here are two things to keep in mind regarding stockpile fertility of warm-season perennials. One, if spring fertility was applied, due to the dry spring and limited forage growth, there may be carryover nitrogen available; a soil test can tell you this. Two, growing days are limited - there is no need for high nitrogen rates since response will be limited by the short growing season. If phosphorus and potassium are deficient, this is a good time to correct deficiencies. Defer from grazing until after frost. If you have introduced pastures with a large amount of residual growth from spring or summer, do not add additional fertilizer. These can be utilized, but realize this is not a true stockpile, and quality will be much, much lower than fresh, fall-accumulated stockpile. Forage utilization will be higher if grazing access can be controlled through the use of strip grazing or some other means. Make sure you match quality to animal requirements and supplement appropriately.

In a perfect situation, nativegrass stockpile would begin with spring grazing followed by deferment from early July until frost. In a less-than-perfect situation, nativegrass needs at least 60 to 75 days of rest prior to frost to accumulate carbohydrate reserves for spring growth. If sufficient growth has occurred during this period to allow grazing, it can be utilized after a hard frost. After frost, be very careful not to graze the range too close - leave a 6-inch residual to avoid crown damage. Again, be aware that quality may not be the best, and supplementation should be done based on animal requirements.

Cool-Season Annuals (CSA)
The traditional establishment deadline for CSA at the Noble Research Institute has been Sept. 15. Clean-till CSA are usually best utilized by growing animals because of their high quality and cost of establishment. Overseeding CSA into warm-season perennials is a common practice, but, due to competition from warm-season perennials during the fall, expect only limited fall production from CSA. No-till drilling the annual can help with establishment and earlier production. Annual ryegrass is the most common overseeded annual with bermudagrass. It can give you 45 to 60 days of grazing prior to bermudagrass green-up. Overseed 15 to 20 pounds per acre of ryegrass in September, and topdress with nitrogen in February. Because of its aggressive re-seeding, annual ryegrass may not need to be re-seeded for several years. Acreage that is used for stockpile bermudagrass works well for ryegrass production. Grazing the stockpile off allows for the spring release of ryegrass. It is not advisable to have all your introduced warm-season perennial forage acres overseeded because spring competition will delay green-up of the warm-season perennials.

Some Tips

  1. When using stockpile, remember that cows are very selective forage consumers - just like you are at your favorite buffet. If allowed, cows will consume leaves first, followed by stems, which can lead to underutilization if grazing is not controlled.
  2. Extending the grazing season implies that you are pushing limits of forage availability. If forage availability is limited, animal intake will be limited, which directly influences condition and performance. Try to accumulate 2,000 pounds of forage per acre so intake will not be limited. Be sure to monitor cow body condition and make adjustments as necessary.
  3. Monitor cow pies. When a cow pie stacks up like a high rise, forage quality has dropped and you probably need to add a supplement.
  4. Always have hay on hand. Establish a goal of only feeding hay for 45 days during the winter, or, better yet, eliminate hay feeding. But be realistic and err on the side of caution and have the hay when you need it.
  5. Avoid the "sympathy bale." Many producers really like their cows and work a little too hard to meet cow needs. Producers need to change their mindset from "I have to feed hay" to "I feed hay only when I have to."