March 29, 2013
Planning for Summer Forage Needs, Managing Pasture Problem Spots
Hay supplies are down and many hay fields and pastures will be late and thin this spring. Planting oats might be one of the surest ways to boost hay supply for your cattle this year.
Oats grow during cool spring weather when we are most likely to receive rain and when soil moisture is used most efficiently to produce forage. Other benefits include low risk, relatively low cost, and multiple use options. Oat hay is ideal for young livestock if cut when oats just begin to head out. You can also increase yield by about one-third and cut oats in the early milk stage for hay that's excellent for stock cows. Also, oats in the milk to early dough stage make excellent silage. Oats can also be grazed, but care should be taken to transition the cattle to this lush forage.
Oats are often best planted in March or early April, depending on location in the state. Drill three to four bushels of oats into new fields for hay. With good soil moisture and 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen, oats will produce two to three tons of hay for harvest in June.
After the oats are harvested, sudangrass or sorghum-sudan hybrids can be seeded for fall grazing or hay production. Growth needs to be 3 feet or more before grazing as a compound called prussic acid can be potentially poisonous. Prussic acid is nothing to fear if you take a few precautions. First, do not turn hungry animals into sudangrass or sorghum-sudan pastures. They may eat so rapidly that they get a quick overdose of prussic acid. Secondly, since the highest concentration of prussic acid is in new shoots, let the grass grow to 24-36 inches tall before it's grazed. Pearl millet doesn't contain prussic acid and can be grazed when it reaches 12 to 15 inches tall.
Managing Summer Annual Grasses
Summer annual grasses respond best to a simple, rotational grazing system. Divide fields into three or more smaller paddocks of a size that permits animals to graze a paddock down to about 8 or so inches of leafy stubble within 7 to 10 days. Repeat this procedure with all paddocks. If some grass gets too tall, either cut it for hay or rotate animals more quickly so grass doesn't head out. A well-planned start, a good rotation, and a little rain will give you good pasture from these grasses all the rest of the summer.
Check brome pastures in March for dead spots. These may be due to drought, grubs or other insects damaging the roots, overgrazing, or cheatgrass that overtook good grass. These thin or dead patches need to be reclaimed and integrated back into your grazing program. If you ignore them, weeds will overrun the area and spread into your good grass. Reseeding these areas follows the same basic guidelines as planting a whole new pasture. Native pastures will heal themselves with weed control and rest.
Plant a brome and orchardgrass mix with equipment that places seed just slightly below the soil surface from March 15 through April. Your biggest challenges are selecting the seed to use and keeping cattle out while new seedlings develop. To determine what to seed, consider whether the patch will be part of a larger pasture or a whole new area. If it's to be part of the larger pasture, it is critical that you plant the same kind of plants that will be next to it when you add it back to the existing pasture. If you plant something cattle like better, they'll overgraze it. If they don't like it as well, they won't use it.
Extension Forage Specialist