by Danny Griffin

County Extension Agent, Staff Chair

When feeding livestock, a producer needs to plan months ahead for what is to come the next season. Many producers have had a short hay crop this year with a decrease in production as high as two-thirds loss of a normal hay harvest. With the dry fall and winter, abnormally cold spring, then extremely warm May and June and now again back to extremely dry weather, many producers are for sure short on hay compared to a more normal year and some are beginning to see short pastures.

You know there is not much we can do when it does not rain when it comes to growing grass. There may be some grasses that can survive drought conditions better than others but there is none that will grow and flourish.

So what can we do in the short term?

Manage the grazing on what grass you do have. Shut gates to pastures and rotate cattle through fields. Don’t overgraze pastures. Overgrazed pastures take longer to recover and grow back.

If drought continues and you run out of grazing, create a sacrifice area.

A sacrifice area is just a designated place that you are willing to keep the cattle to feed hay and allow it to be over utilized to keep from damaging all your fields from overgrazing.

If we continue to get spotty pop up rain showers, don’t be afraid to put some fertilizer out at least nitrogen to get the grass to grow.

If you “wait for the rain” this time of year, you will most likely miss it. Be cautious though to make sure you don’t graze cattle on drought stressed fertilized pastures or cut hay off the field if you have not had adequate rain to utilize the fertilizer.

Long term planning becomes a little harder when having to guess what the weather is going to do. Planning for the next season at the beginning of the present season sometimes seems like an impossible task. You have to be prepared either way - and by that I mean if we get rain or not. We have some options for a fall forage program if we are prepared to implement it. Producers with stands of tall fescue of 50 percent or more in the field have the option for fall grazing and stockpiling.

Stockpiling of the fescue should take place close to Sept. 1. It should be grazed or clipped off and 150-175 pounds of ammonium nitrate applied per acre. If you have the fescue available that is a quicker way to get fall and winter grazing than planting winter annuals.

Producers with bermudagrass also have a stockpiling option. In our area, bermudagrass should be clipped or grazed and fertilized between Aug. 1-15.

Stockpiled bermudagrass, especially mixed with crabgrass, needs to be grazed before frost to get the best utilization. More pure stands of bermudagrass can be used after the first few frosts.

Another option is planting of winter annuals (wheat, rye, or ryegrass) planted into warm-season grass sod.

This option generally doesn’t give much fall grazing but does allow you to graze earlier in the spring. Plant quick growing annual crops for fall grazing. Crops such as oats and turnips can be planted in pure stands or mixed in with winter annuals such as the ryegrass or wheat and provide some quicker fall grazing. These crops just have to be utilized during the fall due to they will not overwinter.

The final and least likely option would be to purchase more hay. If you are going this route, you need to get started. I have had calls from north of us for producers already looking for hay.

You may have to look at out of state sources. Be diligent to get hay quality sampled and buy good quality hay.

To a point good quality hay is usually cheaper even if it costs some extra in the beginning. Feeding poor quality hay can lead to many problems with your cowherd if not supplemented correctly which can be pricier than buying quality hay. You know the funny thing about the weather is it always changes.

In a few weeks, we may be concerned with flooding and heavy rain conditions causing problems with hay production and getting fertilizer out on the fields.

The point of this article is that in the livestock business, you have to be looking forward months down the road to plan your next move.

For more information on planning your Fall and Winter Feeding program you can call the Van Buren County Extension office at 501-745-7117.