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Monitoring summer forage assists winter management

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The arrival of August marks the beginning of the last half of summer. By this time of year, warm-season grass production is about 90 percent complete. It is a good time for producers to inventory forages - including what is going to be harvested and stored as hay (or silage) as well as the production remaining in the pastures that will be grazed. It is also important to have an idea of the expected livestock inventory to be carried through the fall and winter, and determine if/how these numbers will be fed or how many head can be carried with the forages in inventory and expected to be grown this fall.

As was mentioned in the May 2013 Ag News and Views article titled Rainfall and forage data guide stocking decisions, a forage assessment is a useful tool to manage and plan grazing and stocking. Assuming that 90 percent of warm-season grass production is complete by the first of August and knowing the livestock numbers by class and the time frame in which numbers will be adjusted, a producer can manage forage and livestock inventory to last until spring. Plans made in August impact the next seven months (September through March).

The forage assessment illustrated in Table 1 demonstrates the concept of inventorying livestock demand and forage production. Based on the example, this operation has produced about 81 percent of its annual forage thus far this year. This is 9 percentage points less than the expected production of 90 percent by the Aug. 1 date. The producer can select how he would like to proceed from several options. He can plan for winter pasture on his cropland for the weaned calf crop, which would provide grazing in the fall and in the spring. He can fertilize a portion of his bermudagrass pastures for fall stockpiling if weather conditions look favorable. He can also purchase additional hay, market some or all the calves earlier in the fall, market some of his replacements or cull heavier into the cow herd. Knowing forage inventory in midsummer allows the producer ample time to consider each of the options and determine which makes the most financial sense.

Table 1.

Water year rainfall records for the Ardmore, Okla., area (as measured at each of the Noble Research Institute properties and averaged by month) show that about 25.8 inches of rainfall was received from October 2012 through June 2013 which is about 4.6 inches (15 percent) below the long-term rainfall of 30.4 inches for the same period. In addition, the 12-month running total ending after the month of June measured 30.9 inches of rainfall for the Ardmore area which is 4.6 less than the long-term annual rainfall of 35.5 inches for Ardmore - about 13 percent less than the annual long-term average. Even though May and June were good rainfall months, most of the preceding months' precipitation was less than average.

Based on the rainfall information for the area, producers should plan carefully for the seasons ahead to allow for further recovery of their pastures. This is all the more reason for producers to inventory forages in August and develop a plan of action to manage both livestock and pastures for long-term sustainability.

Hugh Aljoe serves as the director of producer relations (consultation and ranch management) and a pasture and range consultant. He has been associated with Noble Research Institute since 1995. Prior to coming to Noble, he managed a 3,000-acre 1,500-head cattle operation in Texas. Hugh received his master’s degree in range science from Texas A&M University with emphasis in grazing management.