Most stockmen are close to being able to graze on cool season grasses that were either planted in the fall or have volunteered on their own.
Have you been able to make the transition yet? Even for folks who didn’t plant ryegrass last fall there is a good chance that you may be transitioning into grazing early spring grasses and stop feeding hay. Coming into the home stretch of February means that spring is almost fully upon us and hay requirements should be ending soon.
If you find yourself still needing to feed hay, it may be time to look at your stocking rate. Proper stocking rates will allow for cool season grasses to get a foot-hold and sustain your herd. Overstocked pastures never do see grasses, of any kind, really perform well and adequately sustain livestock.
Last week we discussed how weeds are thieves of water and nutrients. Controlling them is the first step we ought to take.
A close second is timing of your hay harvest. Capturing the forages while they still have an effective level of nutrients is crucial. Waiting too long between cuttings to increase the number of hay bales at the expense of hay quality will certainly cost stockmen. Most who do this end up purchasing way too many supplements or reducing calf weights.
Though expensive, a commonly considered option is adding lime or fertilizer. Fertilizer should only be applied when weeds are controlled and when hay will be harvested in a timely manner. We can add nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to boost growth, and probably should. But boosting the growth of weeds would be wasted money and letting grass get old, rank and overly mature would be folly.
Nitrogen, to be sure, is such a key component of vegetative quality that it is the metric used by laboratories to determine protein content. Protein is the first and obvious choice for determining hay quality. In the testing laboratory, the technicians used nitrogen content to extrapolate protein content. Low nitrogen means low protein.
Lastly, take a hard look at incorporating some type of annual winter pasture into your forage plans. This would spread the risk of relying solely upon hay to carry livestock thru the winter. Yes, there is risk in planting clovers, grains, ryegrass and many other crops, but we know that hay isn’t guaranteed either.
Just a portion of pasture can be set aside for a winter annual that could tremendously supplement stored hay. Often these crops are of exceptional quality and will greatly aid any low-quality hay.
To learn more, be sure to attend the upcoming seminar Getting Ready for a Successful 2019 Hay Harvest on Monday, Feb 18 at 6:30 pm. It will be at the at the Angelina County Extension Office located next to the Farmers Market at 2201 S. Medford Drive in Lufkin. 1 CEU towards pesticide licenses will be given. Cost is $10.