The Washington Times-Herald

October 8, 2013

Pasture conditions have improved from last month

Victor Shelton NRCS State Agronomist/Grazing Specialist
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — Technology can be very good, but it can also be challenging. I fought the computer yesterday while trying to type up a document. It apparently did not agree with my spelling of a word and kept trying to change it. OK, it was not the usual use of the word, but it got the point across I wanted. Our pastures also try to point out problems to us; I challenge you to observe and try and figure out what it is trying to tell you.

I am pleased with a lot of the pasture I have seen the past couple weeks. Pasture condition has improved some from last month with the addition of just a little rain. Some areas in the state still lack adequate soil moisture for good regrowth; hopefully it will come before the days get too short.

I was in Missouri earlier this month and some of the farms I visited reminded me quite a bit of a lot of our pastures last year. It surprises me sometimes how quick we tend to forget some things, seeing these drought stricken pastures quickly gave me flashbacks of our August and September last year. We talked last month about maintaining cover and how important it is. During a high moisture spring, maintaining adequate moisture should be easy, doing it under drought conditions certainly is more challenging but even more important. I was reminded of this on this trip as I observed the differences of cover and stand density from place to place, to the amount of live, growing, nutritious forages available. Under extreme conditions, differences stand out more; good adequate cover and good plant density, and remarkably, some green growing forage still present. Where there was soil showing, little organic matter on the surface, moisture still evaporating, and poor plant density, the pastures just stood still. It is remarkable how resilient the soil really is if we protect it. Never underestimate the power of adequate cover!

I really like fall forage regrowth, sometimes it is some of the best forage of the season. It is certainly not as “washy” as early spring growth and normally grows up and through slightly drier forages making the grazed forages more balanced with protein to fiber. This can provide some very nice feed to graze and hopefully some stockpiled forage for later in the year. Fall regrowth for stockpiling should ideally be deferred until after the plant goes dormant, normally after a few nights below 26 degrees.

It is early October and corn and beans are being harvested. Because of the wet spring, some are being harvested later than normal which creates less of a window of opportunity to plant some fall annuals for grazing. The less risky forages at this point in time would include cereal rye, winter wheat, winter triticale, and winter peas and perhaps for the southern half of the state, annual ryegrass. These have potential for some fall or early winter grazing, but good potential for some early spring grazing. Planted into corn residue, there is a good balance of protein to fiber available. If you are grazing growing animals (like stockers or replacement heifers), winter annuals will more likely produce better gains than just running them on stockpiled perennial forages.

We need to continue to look for opportunities for grazing and extending the grazing season. I’ve probably said that one too many times, but it never hurts to say it again. There are several producers around that are shooting for little or no hay to be fed as their ultimate goal. This is really pushing the system quite a bit, not to say it can’t be done, but you better have a great contingency plan. For most of us here in Indiana, I think we should initially shoot for just trying to reduce hay feeding days down to 120 days. That is a big change for most producers. If you are already at that point, good for you, can you reduce it down to what I consider really good…60 days or less? “Today” is always a good time to take the time to figure your inventory of forage which includes standing grazable forage, hay or other stored winter feed. What are you going to need to feed everything until new growth next spring? Sharpen the pencil and work out a balance sheet, remember to figure in some loss in feeding, and about 3 percent dry matter intake for all animals. A 1,200 pound cow will eat about 36 pounds of dry matter per day. 120 days of hay for her will be roughly 4,320 pounds. Depending on the quality of that hay, supplementation may be needed.

Summer annual warm-season grasses such as sudangrass or sorghum-sudangrass hybrids often have some late season value, but caution needs to be taken utilizing these forages this time of year.

Once frosted, these forages produce a cyanide containing compound commonly called prussic acid. It is the same compound that is produced by these same plants under stressed conditions, (such as drought) and is found in stressed Johnsongrass. Once frosted, this plant quickly starts shutting down and prussic acid is produced. Livestock should be removed from these forages for 10-14 days to allow for the forages to “dry down” and the prussic acid to dissipate before grazing again. Frosted sudangrass or sorghum-sudangrass hybrids can be harvested for balage right after being frosted and later fed as long as they are allowed their normal fermentation process time period of three or four weeks. Frosted areas could be only “pockets” in a field to start with. Any regrowth from the base of the plant after a frost can also be very high in prussic acid. If in doubt about nitrates or prussic acid – test before feeding or grazing!

Enjoy the nice fall weather and as always, keep on grazing!

Heart of America Grazing Conference – Jan. 20-21, 2014, Columbus

Southern Indiana Grazing Conference – Feb. 5, 2014, Odon – Jim Gerrish and Kathy Voth are main speakers.

Northern Indiana Grazing Conference – Feb. 7-8, 2014 — Michiana Event Center, Howe.

Stay tuned for more information along with other workshops and field days.