Mother Nature didn’t cooperate this year, and winter pastures will be limited in the Ozarks.
Dry weather in September and October was the culprit, Dr. John Jennings, University of Arkansas Extension Forage Agronomist, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor.
“Our stockpiled Bermudagrass is very, very short; fall fescue growth is very, very short, and a lot of our winter annuals such as ryegrass and wheat and other small grains that got planted in September actually didn’t come up till late October when we started getting some rain,” Jennings said.
Many producers started feeding stored hay in December, a long time before pastures will start up again in the spring.
There’s plenty of hay, according to University of Missouri Forage Agronomist Tim Schnakenberg, but the quality is lacking.
“A lot of moisture and a lot of rain during the summer, the hay harvest season, has led to difficulty getting it put up right and getting it dry, so there are probably some molds and mildews,” Schnakenberg told OFN, adding the delayed cuttings also led to more mature growths and reduced nutritional value. He said it costs between 80 cents to $1.30 per day to feed stored hay to a cow, compared to 45 cents for stockpiled fescue.
To stretch out supplies, Schnakenberg recommended rationing out stockpiled fescue.
“To me, strip grazing is an ideal way to manage that stockpiled fescue,” he said. “Gradually ration it to them, a little at a time, on a daily basis or even every two to three days; you can move those cows until it’s all gone.”
If producers did get early growth on small grains like wheat or rye, they’re able to graze them now. Schnakenberg said cows are usually turned in when the growths get to 8- to 10- inches tall, and are taken off before it gets down to 4 inches.
“You want to be careful not to graze it too hard, and the same rule would apply once it comes back in the spring,” he said.
Another grazing alternative is forage brassicas like turnips, but the season for these crops usually ends when it gets cold. Schankenberg said, “They can come back in the spring and plant more with a spring seeding, but typically around here the fall seeding is done in August. It’s not widespread, but there are a few people who like to put brassicas in; the problem is, they graze them fairly quickly, and then they’re gone.”
Jennings said in many cases the small grains were planted to fields with volunteer ryegrass that comes up naturally. “If they’ll keep livestock off those and put a little bit of nitrogen fertilizer on there, they might be able to start limit-grazing those by February if this mild winter continues,” he said. “They can graze their winter annual pasture 1-2 days a week; they’ll continue to feed hay, but that winter annual pasture will help balance out the quality of their hay crop and help maintain the cattle in good body condition.” Even if it takes until March for the small grains to grow, that still saves 30 days of hay feeding. 40 units of nitrogen will help those fields grow, albeit slowly, in the warmer weather.
Stockpiled forage finally saw some growth with November rains, but was further reduced by some heavy frosts in late fall. Jennings suggested producers extend supplies by rotational grazing. “If they strip graze and allocate it out in 2-3 day allotments, it will last longer,” he said. “They can double the number of grazing days by doing that, and then defer grazing on their winter annuals until they can accumulate some decent growth. That might be later this winter, and they’ll limit graze that out using electric fencewire.”


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