Pasture and Forage Minute: Annual Forage Webinar Series, Improving Alfalfa Stands

Cow in tall grass
Making a decision on when to graze winter annuals such rye, winter wheat or triticale in the spring should depend on plant growth — ideally, the best time to graze is when the plants are about five to six inches tall.

Pasture and Forage Minute: Annual Forage Webinar Series, Improving Alfalfa Stands

Annual Forage Systems

By Jerry Volesky

Are you interested in learning more about annual forage systems? Cattle and Coffee is an upcoming early morning webinar series about this very topic.

Annual forages offer cattle producers a way to increase the amount of feed their land produces. In this series of eight webinars, participants will hear about the latest research and techniques for adding an annual forage rotation to their operation. Topics will start with the basics of developing a grazing chain for cattle from spring through fall and what yield and grazing carrying capacities to expect. Subsequent webinars will cover agronomic management, choosing which species to plant, grazing management, forage quality, animal performance, and options for harvesting.

The series will wrap up with a panel of cattle producers discussing their experiences with annual forages. Participants can ask questions and interact directly with experts from Nebraska Extension, ensuring personalized insights and valuable takeaways tailored to their forage production needs. The webinars will be Tuesday and Thursday mornings from April 23 to May 16, starting at 6:30 a.m. (CDT). A Zoom link will be emailed to participants ahead of the webinars. If you are unable to make it at these dates, the webinars will be recorded for later viewing.

More information and registration are available on UNL Beef.

Grazing Spring Cereal Grains

By Ben Beckman

Grazing winter annuals such rye, winter wheat or triticale commonly begins in April. All three of these forages can be very high in quality and reduce the need for feeding expensive hay while allowing additional time for spring growth of our perennial summer pastures.

Timing grazing should depend plant growth, not a specific date. Begin grazing when the plants are about five to six inches tall and manage to keep the maximum height at eight to 10 inches. A good starting point is about 0.5 cow or one stocker calf per acre in early spring and increasing from there. Rotational grazing with higher stocking densities can assist with keeping the plant maturity more uniform and reduce selective grazing. Look ahead one or two pastures and move based on how the plants are recovering in those pastures. These forages grow and recover from grazing fast.

The most common mistake when grazing spring small cereals is letting the grass get ahead of the cattle. It is important to increase stocking density as the spring progresses to ensure grazing can keep up with the rapid forage growth. This can be achieved by either adding more cattle or reducing the number of acres being grazed.

Like most cool-season grasses in early spring, small cereal forages are also high in potassium. This means there is a need to provide supplemental magnesium, as potassium interferes with magnesium availability to the animal. A free choice mineral with a targeted 4 ounces per day intake should contain at least 10% magnesium to prevent grass tetany in lactating cows and 5% magnesium to increase gains in stocker calves.

Thin Stand Alfalfa Options

By Todd Whitney

Alfalfa fields usually are fully productive for at least four or five years after seeding before fields need converted to another crop. So, what should producers do when their alfalfa stands fall below 10 plants per square foot, heavy weed populations emerge, or the annual forage yields drop off below half?

For thin stands, the temptation may be to drill or broadcast more alfalfa seeds to fill open spaces between plants. However, if alfalfa plants have been growing in the same field for more than one year, this practice is NOT recommended, since live alfalfa roots emit an ethylene chemical toxin into soil impeding growth of new alfalfa. This allelopathy effect, also called autotoxicity, weakens or kills any new emerging alfalfa. Autotoxicity also accumulates more in soil over time, meaning older alfalfa stands have increased toxin levels compared to newer stands. Therefore, usually it would be better to find a new replacement field than seed into an existing thin stand.

The next option for thin fields may be delaying mowing of the alfalfa to increase harvest tonnage. Then, follow your weed control herbicide label for carryover rotation restrictions. Finally, consider interseeding with perennial grasses such as brome, fescue, orchard grass or native grasses to increase forage production for the next growing season.

Bottom line — management for thin established alfalfa fields is to wait at least four weeks to over a year after established plants have been killed before drilling new alfalfa into the same field(s).

Subscribe to Pasture and Forage Minute

Online Master of Science in Agronomy

With a focus on industry applications and research, the online program is designed with maximum flexibility for today's working professionals.

A field of corn.