Adding forages will help improve pastures

Spring grazing season is almost upon the Ozarks, and Extension experts say now is the time to get pastures primed and ready. 

Sowing in a variety of crops like oats, white or red clover or ryegrass can help get forage on the right track for the year and potentially reduce some operating costs. 

Jill Scheidt, University of Missouri Extension agronomy field specialist, explained the more diverse the plant population, the more nutritional needs you can meet for your livestock.

“If producers can increase the quality of forages grazed, they will likely meet more nutritional needs, hypothetically reducing the need for supplementation,” she said. “If forages, such as legumes, are added to a pasture, less nitrogen fertilizer is needed as legumes fix nitrogen and provide that nutrient to surrounding plants.”

If producers choose to plant oats, it is typically recommended they be planted in the February through March window.  According to the Kansas State University Agronomy Department, if used as a pure forage crop with reasonable fertilizer inputs, spring oats can provide an excellent bridge for producers short on available pasture in April and May until perennial pasture or summer annual forage production becomes available.

Oats can be grazed about 60 days after planting. When starting to graze newly established oats, Patrick Davis, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, recommends the stocking rate be one animal per 3 acres for optimum forage management.

White clover is a little easier to establish than oats, as they can be planted via drilling or broadcasting.

Drilling is often the preferred method, but if producers choose the broadcasting, their cattle can help make a little less work.

“If you broadcast seed, use cattle hoof action, as well as the freezing and thawing process, to work the seed into the soil,” Davis said.

White clover can cause bloat, so cattle will need managed appropriately while grazing. Acclimating them slowly or adding white clover into a mixed forage stand can help with this.

Another forage that works well for spring grazing is red clover, and there is less risk of bloat, Davis said, and red clover is high in magnesium and can reduce the incidence of grass tetany.

Yet another good choice for a spring grazing crop is ryegrass – this crop works well to seed into closely grazed Bermudagrass pastures, although the Noble Research Institute cautions against seeding too much ryegrass as it can retard the growth of Bermudagrass.

One major benefit of planting ryegrass is its ability to reseed itself, according to the Nobel Research Institute. With a good seed crop, little or no seeding will be necessary the following year, thus reducing establishment cost.”

The local Extension offices are a great resource for producers getting ready for spring pasture preparations; many locations have a planting guide for forages, and some even loan out drills and other equipment to help producers achieve spring planting success.


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