Options to extend grazing season

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By Rick Greenwell

Many options exist to extend the grazing season. 

Cool-season annuals, such as cereal rye, wheat and ryegrass, are a great tool to consider in pastures or following row crops for grazing in late fall to early winter and early spring.  They also serve as a cover crop to reduce soil erosion during the winter on tillable acres. Typically, cool-season annuals are planted in the late summer or early fall. 

Correct establishment is crucial for the success of any forage. 

To increase the chances for a successful establishment and maintenance, keep the following recommendations in mind.

Prepare proper fertility.  Adequate soil fertility will contribute to successful establishment of any forage.  Nutrient deficiencies can limit establishment yield and make the stand vulnerable to weeds. 

Obtain soil samples every three years and, if necessary, correct fertility levels.  Contact your local county extension agent for advice on how to take a proper soil sample and interpret the test results.  

Select high-quality seed. 

A blue certified seed tag guarantees that the seed is from the variety stated on the bag and has low levels of weed seed, no noxious weed seed, and good germination and vigor. 

For non-certified seed, since there is no guarantee of the variety in the bag, theseed may not be adapted to your area and have low yield.

There should be a germination and weed percentage even on a non-certified seed tag, but the tolerances for seed germination and weed seed content are lower than for certified seed.

Uncertified seed may be cheaper in the short run, but it will cost you in the long run.

Prepare a seedbed suitable for seeding.  In fields following row crops, such as corn silage, the first step in preparing a seedbed for cool-season annuals is to spray out the area that will be used for planting if it is currently covered in vegetation. 

Keep in mind that reducing plant height before spraying is essential for herbicide effectiveness.  Glyphosate will often be the most effective herbicide option. 

When using glyphosate or any other pesticide, always follow the label instructions on how to use these materials safely and effectively, especially regarding grazing restrictions. 

The area will then need to be mowed before tilling and seeding.  Regardless if you plan on tilling or not, mowing as close to the ground as possible will make the next steps easier. 

While it is recommended to till before seeding cool-season annuals, no-till or minimum tillage techniques can be used as well.  Tilling helps to incorporate lime and fertilizers, destroy weeds and other vegetation, and prepare a level, firm seedbed.

In existing pastures or old stands of alfalfa, graze the existing forage very close to the ground (1 to 2 inches).  Seed forages using a no-till drill.  Continue grazing until new seedlings begin to emerge.  Delay grazing until the forage reaches 8 to 10 inches.

Follow seeding recommendations. 

As stated earlier, cool-season annuals are typically seeded in the fall.  To increase chances for a successful stand, seed within the appropriate time frame, and use the recommended seeding rate and depth. 

Seeding too deep is a common problem with spring seedings when no-till drills are used and soils are still very moist. 

For most of our forage crops with small sized seed, such as brassicas or annual ryegrass, a seeding depth between one and two inch is adequate.  Species with larger-sized seed, such as small grains, can be seeded between 1 and 2 inches deep.  

Monitoring seeding depth periodically during seeding is a great investment in time and energy. 

Often, the difference between establishment success and failure is maintaining proper seed placement.  Consult the Grain and Forage Crop Guide for Kentucky at http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage/AGR%2018%20BookletFinal%20Revisions1.pdf for seeding  recommendations.  
Control threats like pests and competition from other plants.  

Insects diseases, and weeds can damage a good stand. 

The single biggest cause of stand failure in Kentucky is competition by existing vegetation or weeds.  Use herbicides and/or insecticides to protect your stand. 

Information on chemicals, rates and times of applications is available at your local county extension office.  Always follow label recommendations and precautions when using any kind of chemicals. 

You can also control competition from other plants by mowing or grazing, just be sure not to overgraze or mow too close.  It is recommended to start grazing cool-season forage species at eight to 10 inches and remove animals when plants are at three to four inches in height.

While there are many factors that go into establishing a thick, persistent forage stand, the above recommendations can increase the chances.  Once a stand is established, be sure to follow correct management recommendations to get the most from your forage. 

Keep detailed records of all renovations and management, such as dates and rates for mowing, spraying, tilling and seeding. 

Note that for use of restricted use pesticides, an applicator’s license is required. This also applies to products that leave any residual activity.  

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