Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952
Using good pasture management practices can help eliminate weeds and unwanted plants in grass pastures and hayfields. To get the most quantity and quality from pastures, use management practices that encourage growth of a vigorous, dense stand of forage grasses and limit germination and growth of unwanted plants. Weed seed germinate in thin pasture stands, and unwanted plants are more prone to become established in these areas.
One of the signs that spring has arrived is when the yellow flowers of buttercup begin to appear, but it’s during the winter months that the vegetative growth of buttercup takes place. As a cool season weed, this plant often flourishes in over grazed pasture fields with poor stands of desirable forages.
Tall ironweed (Vernonia altissma Nutt.) is one of the more commonly found weeds in grazed pasture fields and other non-cropland areas.
Increasing nitrogen in the soil has been shown to greatly increase pasture production. Nitrogen can be increased in pastures by incorporating nitrogen-fixing legumes into grass stands or by applying nitrogen fertilizer.
Fertilizer is one of the main expenses in a productive grazing system. It is important to apply fertilizer and lime in accurate amounts for best forage production and financial and environmental reasons. Performing a soil test on pastures and utilizing the results to evaluate pasture fertility is strongly advised. Analysis of a soil sample will determine nutrient content of the soil including phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper, and zinc. Soil pH, organic matter, and exchangeable acidity will also be included in the results. These results are used to decide what to apply and how much to apply.
Nitrogen application in late October to November can thicken forage stands, initiate spring growth earlier, and forages will remain greener into the fall and early winter.
Applying nitrogen in mid-February to mid-April can promote early grass growth which can increase overall forage production and may reduce the use of stored feed.
Fertilizer and lime should be applied in accurate amounts for best forage production and for financial and environmental reasons. Performing a soil test on pastures and utilizing the results to evaluate pasture fertility is strongly advised.
Once you have selected a forage species and variety, it is recommended to buy a quality seed that is high in germination rate and free of weed seed. Buying certified seed guarantees that the requirements for both of these parameters has been met and should be the first purchasing option.
Many areas in pastures are susceptible to severe damage between late fall and early spring.
The frost seeding method allows seeds to be inter-seeded into undisturbed soils by scattering seed on top of the ground. The freezing and thawing action of the soil works the seeds into the soil where they can germinate. In Kentucky, the ideal time to frost seed is between February 10 and March 1, with mid-February preferred.
Multiple reasons exists for needing to reseed pasture, such as old stands that are dying out or stands that need to be improved due to poor management, disease, to fill in bare spots, or to reduce weed problems.
Although grazing warm-season annuals can be extremely beneficial throughout the hot summer months, many are reluctant to use them. The cost and extra time and labor required to seed these forages each year is the main reason. Grazing warm-season perennials may be a good option for some operations.
Partridge pea is a warm-season legume commonly used in wildlife seed mixes. Conservation Reserve Program lands are often seeded with these wildlife mixes.
Seed is the basic building block to a forage or crop stand. Whether establishing a new stand or improving an old stand, actions can be taken to ensure that newly planted seed produces a healthy stand.
Good grazing management will result in improved pasture yields. Understanding how plants grow allows for better management decisions as to when to move livestock under different growing conditions.
Seed is one of the cheapest inputs and is the basic building block to a good forage stand and grazing operation. Purchasing seed of high quality can increase pasture quality and yield.
In order for legumes to fix nitrogen, the rhizobium bacteria which form a symbiotic relationship with the plant must be present. Inoculating seeds with these bacteria prior to seeding will ensure that this beneficial process is occurring.
While using a sacrifice area can protect other pastures, these areas usually suffer from soil compaction, cover by manure and hay residues, forage damage from overgrazing and hoof action, and severe erosion. Steps should be taken to manage these areas to reduce these negative effects.
Adding warm-season annuals to a grazing system can provide high quality forage throughout the hot summer months.
This summer, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service provided the opportunity to share their success of the 300 Day Grazing Program with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service by inviting us for a private two-day tour of the program. Three University of Kentucky Extension specialists, three Agriculture and Natural Resource county Extension agents, a representative from the Kentucky Beef Network, and the Master Grazer Program Coordinator (myself) teamed up to travel throughout Arkansas to learn about the program in preparation of developing a similar program in Kentucky. We toured farms that have implemented managed grazing practices and discussed the results of the program with Arkansas county Extension agents, producers, University of Arkansas Extension specialists, and the 300 Day Grazing program coordinator.
With the rising cost and limited availability of hay over the past few years, Kentucky cattle farmers have been looking for ways to extend the grazing season and reduce the need to feed hay during the fall/winter months. Stockpiling forage is one way to meet both of these objectives. The definition of stockpiling is to “grow pasture for a later use.” The species of forage that respond best to stockpiling will vary between different regions of the US. In Kentucky, cool-season grasses respond favorably to nitrogen applications in the fall. Tall Fescue is especially renowned for stockpiling because of its inherent ability to maintain high levels of nutrients during the winter months than other cool-season species.
As the environmental temperature increases, cool-season forages begin to go dormant and production decreases. Warm-season grasses and legumes should be incorporated into grazing systems in order to reduce overgrazing paddocks and supply amply amounts of high quality grazing.
It is tempting to turn livestock back onto pastures as soon as forages start to green up and produce new growth. Harvesting forages too early or grazing down too low can reduce stand productivity and longevity. Allow plants sufficient growth time prior to grazing as well as during rest periods to maximize forage quality, yield, and stand persistence. Increased chance of overgrazing is another issue when grazing short forages. Grazing too early not only hurts future forage production but can also reduce livestock performance.
The use of stockpiled forages can extend the grazing season and reduce the amount of stored feed needed to feed livestock through the fall and winter months. Stockpiling forages, or allowing forage growth to accumulate for use at a later time, can help extend the grazing season.
Many options exist to provide quality grazing during seasons when many common forages have gone dormant. Some non-traditional forages can provide high quality grazing throughout the early fall, late winter, early spring, or hot summer months.
Many options exist to provide livestock with high quality forages for grazing throughout the fall and early winter months. In Kentucky, these options include utilizing perennial cool-season pasture as well as a variety of small grains and brassicas.
Non-uniform grazing can reduce utilization of available forages and increase undesirable plants and weeds in pastures. Taking steps to graze paddocks more uniformly will benefit overall livestock production and forage quality.
With much of the country affected by the drought conditions this summer, many grain producers are facing the problem of low grain yields while many livestock producers are experiencing hay shortages and may be seeking alternatives for winter feed.
The use of cereal grains can be an effective way to extend the grazing season. These small grains can be used for grazing, grain, hay, or silage.
Grazing remaining residue following corn harvest is one way to extend the grazing season and lower feed costs. Winter feed costs are the largest expense and grazing corn residues offers a way to significantly reduce those costs.
Small cereal grains, such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley, are multipurpose crops that can be used for grazing, silage, or hay production. Grazing pure stands of small grains is an effective way to extend the grazing season into the late fall and early winter, and then again in February/March for early spring grazing.
When renovating or establishing pastures, an important consideration is the selection of forage species and varieties. Forage species, as well as varieties within a species, vary significantly in yield, quality, and stand persistence, which combine to greatly impact performance and economic return to the operation. In addition to choosing an appropriate variety, proper seeding rates and seedbed preparation are necessary for the successful establishment of the selected variety.
Warm-season annuals such as sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum X sudangrass hybrids, and millets are useful forages for summer grazing.
When planning a grazing management plan for your pastures, it’s important to realize that pasture is the most economical and efficient way to feed your animals. When managing pasture, both the animal nutrient needs and pasture requirements should be considered.
Brown Midrib, or BMR, varieties have reduced lignin content which increases digestion, fiber availability, and energy available for grazing livestock.
Corn is one of our most productive forages with the potential to produce more than seven tons of dry matter per acre. Few annual crops can compare to corn in terms of yield (dry matter per acre) and cost (per pound of gain). Grazing fully matured, standing corn during the winter months has proven to be a successful tool to extend the grazing season.
Alfalfa is one of the primary forage crops grown in the U.S. This high quality forage produces high yields that can be used for hay, silage, or pasture.
Brassicas (including turnips, rape, kale, and swedes) are highly productive, digestible forbs that contain relatively high levels of crude protein. Animals will readily consume the tops and will also grub the root bulbs out of the ground. Dry matter yield depends upon soil type, fertility, time of seeding, and precipitation.
Grazing forages during the summer months is a great way to reduce stored feed costs. However, there are some risks that come with grazing certain forages and weeds. It is important to be cautious this summer to reduce the risk for prussic acid poisoning, as prussic acid poisoning tends to be worse during times of drought.
Pastures were slow to green-up with the cool weather this spring.
As temperatures continue to decrease, it is important to know and understand how various species of forages react to frosts and freezes in order to best utilize these forages and to avoid possible health problems. Freezing changes the metabolism and composition of plants. Depending on plant species, this can create possible forage-related animal disorders or the need to alter grazing management practices.
In Kentucky, bloat is most common from mid-March through May but many cases of bloat have already been reported this spring.
Grass tetany is a disorder that is often a problem in livestock grazing in early spring. Providing a high “Mag” mineral supplement starting in December or January and continued through the spring can reduce the risk of grass tetany.
Pinkeye or IBK (infectious Bovine Keratoconjunctivitis) is a costly disease for cattle producers.
Prussic acid poisoning occurs when livestock graze certain plants that contain cyanide-producing compounds. Such species include, but are not limited to, sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, Johnsongrass, and wild cherry. Cyanide can interfere with oxygen utilization in livestock, especially if consumed in large amounts.
Stockpiling forage is one way to extend the grazing season and minimize winter hay feeding. Tall Fescue is renowned for stockpiling because of its inherent ability to maintain high levels of nutrients during the winter months. Stockpiling fescue in the fall is fairly simple.
Various rotational grazing systems are used to increase forage production. These can include leader-follower, strip grazing, or ultra-high density grazing.
Heat stress can start in May in Kentucky. Management practices can help decrease the effects on cattle in a grazing system.
Tall fescue covers 5 million acres of hay meadows and pastures in Kentucky and has been the predominant forage in the state for over 50 years.
Pastures have greened up and are once again producing lush, high quality forages for grazing. Although it may be tempting to put livestock back on these pastures right away, certain precautions should be taken to protect the livestock and the new forage growth.
Many farmers that are currently using a rotational grazing system will argue that implementing a water system is the most vital and limiting factor.
Horn flies and face flies are the key pasture flies that Kentucky cattle producers face each year. Both provide unique control challenges but the face fly is the more difficult one to manage. There are two main reasons: the small amount of time spent on animals and hard-to-treat feeding sites
Flies are one of the most difficult pests to manage and although they cannot be totally controlled, it is possible to reduce populations and irritation to livestock.
If hay is stored and fed properly, hay loss can be minimized. Total losses from hay storage and feeding are estimated to exceed three billion dollars annually nationwide. This does not include additional economic losses associated with labor used to store and feed hay. While it is normal to expect some hay loss during feeding, minimizing hay feeding losses should be a primary producer goal.
Testing your forages can be a useful tool to minimize feeding costs while maximizing animal production. Forage testing provides the nutritional value of pasture, hay, or silage.
As the grazing season comes to an end, take time to reflect on and assess the past grazing season. It is important to continually make an effort to improve and advance a managed grazing system. When planning for the upcoming grazing season, decide on a purposed budget and time limitation. If you have little or no budget to make improvements to your grazing system, simple changes to management practices can make significant improvements.
Grazing two or more animal species in a pasture-based system can increase forage utilization and efficiency.
One of the most important components of a successful rotational grazing system is allowing the forages an adequate rest period for plant recovery and regrowth. Allowing plants a sufficient rest period is vital to maximize forage quality, yield, and stand persistence.
Cool season grasses are growing rapidly and producing large amounts of forages at this time of year.
Grazing at too low of a height causes overgrazing and decreases stand productivity and longevity.
Rotational grazing systems are based on having multiple paddocks and strategically moving livestock to allow the forages in each paddock a sufficient rest and regrowth period.
The Grazing for Cash program’s focus is on improving grazing and forage management. To help producers implement change, steps to incorporate and prioritize the identified focus areas are defined. This program will be rolled out within the next few months.
The Western KY network held the Western Kentucky Dairy Pasture Walk on June 14, 2013 in Pembroke, KY at Amos Fisher’s Dairy Farm. Dr. Ray Smith, forage Extension specialist, and Dr. Donna Amaral-Phillips, dairy Extension specialist, led discussion along with Amos and helped to answer questions. Topics included dwarf-type forage sorghum for silage, identifying pasture grasses, tall fescue, heat effects on dairy cattle, strip grazing, estimating pasture yield, alfalfa management, and more.
Western Kentucky Spring Pasture Walk is scheduled for June 14, 2013 at Amos Fisher’s Dairy Farm in Christian county.
The Western KY Grazing Network held their third pasture walk of the 2012 grazing season on September 26, 2012. The pasture walk was held on Wayne Burkholder’s dairy near Hopkinsville, KY.
On June 19, 2012 the Northern Kentucky grazing network held their third pasture walk of the 2012 grazing season.
The Western Kentucky Grazing network held their second pasture walk of the 2012 gazing season on May 30, 2012 at Menno Beiler’s organic dairy near Trenton, KY.
Known as a leader in agriculture, Russell C. Hackley has not only integrated a profitable beef operation, but also highly enjoys his work and involvement in the industry. He recognizes the value of high quality forage and is willing to try new things to better utilize forage. He also has hosted many field days through the University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service and has worked with University researchers in using his operation for many research trials, including novel endophyte tall fescue variety trials.
Kelly Kramer is originally from West Virginia and graduated May 5 from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science in Equine Science and Management through the department of Animal Sciences.
Buddy Smith owns and manages a beef cattle and hay operation on over 400 acres in Anderson County and does an exemplary job of managing his unique grazing program.
Randy Haas, owner and operator of Flagg Springs Ranch, runs a stocker operation on over 500 acres in Campbell County.
When Gene and Marcy Dobbs purchased Shady Meadows in 1971, the 65 acre farm located in Campbell County consisted of 2 large paddocks with many briars, bushes, and rocks.
The Landis farm, owned and operated by Jim and Baker Landis, is a 120 acre farm which raises beef cattle with a pasture based system.
Knob Lick Farm relies on keeping things simple, reducing the use of machinery, and letting the livestock do the work. A unique no-freeze, portable watering system has allowed for dairy heifers to be rotationally grazed year round.
The 2013 Kentucky Fall Grazing School will take place August 21-22,2013 at the Woodford County Extension Office and the C. Oran Little Research Center in Versailles, KY. This two-day program will include hands-on exercises, such as building temporary paddocks and watering systems, assessing pasture production, and designing your own grazing systems. Classroom sessions with University experts include a variety of topics based on forages, ruminant health, and grazing systems.
The second advanced grazing school is scheduled for June 18, 2013 at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton, KY.
The spring grazing school will be held on April 17-18, 2013 at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton, KY. This two-day program will include hands-on exercises such as building temporary paddocks and watering systems, assessing pasture production, and designing your own grazing systems. Classroom sessions include a variety of topics based on forages, animal health, and grazing systems. Emphasis will be put on spring and summer grazing options for ruminant species.
A list of important considerations for late winter and early spring.
Plan and prepare for changes to your grazing system and pasture renovations that will be implemented next spring.
Use caution when grazing certain summer annuals after a frost to reduce threat of cyanide (prussic acid) poisoning.
Soil compaction is a common problem that many producers face but that is often overlooked. Significant soil compaction can also reduce forage yields and slow forage establishment which, in the long run, costs money. Management practices can be used to reduce and correct this problem while improving soil conditions.
In order to keep damage to pastures to a minimum, it is important to take the proper actions to protect them during wet periods when they are prone to damage.
With the many challenges of managing an agriculture operation, environmental concerns often fall low on the priority list. However, incorporating a few key practices can help ensure animal health, improve soil resources, and protect water quality. In addition, these practices can be included in a KY Agriculture Water Quality Plan and help farmers comply with environmental regulations.