It was a tough summer for Southern Plains livestock producers, many of whom were faced with a problem that had no solution. The historic drought left pastures barren and forage supplies scarce.
It’s a time of shortage, and University of Missouri Extension southwest region livestock specialist Eldon Cole told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “Producers are buying everything imaginable – corn stalks, soybean stalks, soybean hay, corn hay, Broomsedge; just about anything you can think of that can be rolled up in a round bale seems to be showing up on some farms.” He added, “Of course, a lot of it’s getting on a big truck and heading toward Texas and Oklahoma, because they’ve been buying a lot of hay up in here, too.”
Dr. John Jennings, University of Arkansas professor of animal science and Extension forage specialist, said it affected even those producers who rotate pastures and closely manage their stands. Jennings told OFN several growers who planted winter annuals like Ryegrass and small grains are just starting to get enough rainfall for those crops to germinate and emerge. “If these nice fall temperatures continue; we might be able to get some late fall, mid-winter grazing from those winter annual plantings,” he said. “In a few cases where producers really got on top of things and actually had put on some fertilizer ahead of some scarce rainfall, they’re making some stockpiled Bermudagrass and some stockpiled Fescue. But not many people took advantage of that.”
Jennings said producers normally fertilize Bermudagrass in the heat and dryness of August anyway, and stockpiled Fescue in the first week of September, in anticipation of fall rains. This year, the rains were just later in coming, and remain sparse. He admitted it can be hard to convince producers that they can fertilize during hot, dry weather, but pointed to good results on one north-central Arkansas farm.  “He had fertilized in August, and did get a little bit of rain,” Jennings reported. “He had about 4,000 lb/acre of standing forage available in mid-October, which is a really nice stockpile, and the estimated savings on that for his herd and the grazing days was going to be about $3,500, versus the cost of hay to replace that grazing.”
The Conway County farm, which hosted an October Extension field day, is attempting to extend the grazing season to 300 days a year. Extension is also managing a herd on the 300-day grazing program at the Livestock and Forestry Research Station at Batesville. “We’re anticipating being able to graze our fall pastures up until Christmas time and then go on to our stockpiled Fescue, and that should carry us on through January,” said Jennings.
He also noted that producers have been tapping in every source of roughage they can find, including crop residue. This has created some problems; in addition to being low in nutritional value, some of the corn and sorghum stubble carried high nitrate loads, and much of the rice was treated with pesticides that are not approved for use on forage crops.
Cole said producers frequently changed their management plans through the summer, tempering the lack of rain with the consensus view that cattle prices will continue strong through next year. Many of them went from more closely managing pastures at first to culling cows and early marketing of calves later, but were still in desperate need of forage as the drought dragged on. In addition, stands of Fescue and other cool season grasses were damaged by a combination of drought and overgrazing. Cole said, “When we started getting some scattered rain in the fall, some were encouraged – where they thought may have been a total loss of the Fescue stand, they’re now seeing there’s some Fescue. It’s still going to come back, and Fescue will if anything will. But there also reaches a point where if it’s abused too much, it will not bounce back.”
In much of the region it’s past the time where those fields can be reseeded, but Cole said producers are preparing to get back into the field when the ground is again workable. “For many of these cool season grass pastures I think overseeding with legumes, either Clover or Lespideza, will be something that will be a very popular move, and that will probably take place in February or early March next year,” he said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here