Forage Management After It Rains

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

October is practically here and now that the area has received beneficial rains, there are some opportunities to grow some forage where we once thought all was lost! Before cold weather sets in for good, there may be a few weeks left to plan for forage production during late winter and early spring.

Some of the cool season annual forages may offer a chance to plant something for grazing later on. Many of these grasses have to be planted during August or September to provide any fall grazing, but doing so now may result in something cows can harvest themselves during February or March. It all depends on the weather.

Cereal Rye will offer the most growth during cold months. It will grow deeper into the winter and will resume growth earlier in the spring than anything else. The drawback is that once this species begins to joint the palatability drops and cows do not consume it very well. Rye will “get away from you” quicker than anything else in the spring if you don’t keep the grazing pressure on it. Some of the newer grazing rye varieties may be better at producing leaves and slower to enter the reproductive state. But, if you are looking for a quick flash of grazing in spring and want it to be gone so permanent pasture can emerge, then rye may be the choice for you.

Oats or wheat can also be planted during October and they can establish successfully before freezing weather. Both are later to joint than rye and are leafier, providing more high quality grazing over a longer period of time. Oats make the most palatable hay of any of the winter annual small grains.

Ryegrass is a good choice if you need grazing that holds up over a longer period of time and deeper into the spring. Depending on the variety and the season ryegrass can remain vegetative well into May before it begins to joint and “go to seed.” Check with your local supplier to see what varieties are available and examine their relative maturity ranges.

Any of these species can be drilled into existing pasture but grazing livestock should be removed until they are fully established, which will probably be 4-5 months away. Seeding any of these is probably not a good investment if the cows can’t be placed somewhere else for that length of time. Likewise, if the stand of fescue is satisfactory one may be able to encourage more forage growth quicker with the addition of nitrogen fertilizer. This practice is usually recommended for early September and the window on getting it done is rapidly closing, but established plants will make quicker growth than anything that has to come from seed. Scout your pastures to see what the stand is like – how thick is it, how much is fescue, ….. That information will help you make the best decision.

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to feed hay or alternative forages while small grains are establishing or your fescue pastures are recovering. Soil moisture levels are replenished and we still have at least 1 good month of fescue growth ahead of us if you can hold cows off of a couple of pastures. Make the most of the chance to grow some grass in the next 30 days.

When feeding corn stalks or other low quality roughages don’t forget to provide some supplemental protein. Dry cows may likely sustain themselves on free choice corn stalks and a protein tub. Lactating cows will need up to 5 pounds of a 32% protein concentrate to balance the ration. Be sure to offer a good mineral supplement with plenty of Vitamin A when feeding alternative forages that are “brown” instead of “green.”

Finally, be aware of forage related disorders we sometimes see during drought or during fall. Monitor the health of cattle that are grazing pastures that contain oak trees during years of heavy acorn crops. Remember to remove grazing livestock from pastures that contain sorghum species (johnsongrass or sorghum sudans) before frost and keep them away for several days after a killing frost. We have heard of several herds where animals have been lost to perilla mint, so be sure you are providing enough forage to discourage consumption of poisonous plants.

For more information on managing livestock contact your Lincoln County Cooperative Extension Center at 704-736-8461.

Jeff Carpenter