Jose Dubeux, Erick Santos, David Jaramillo, Liza Garcia, Luana Dantas, UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Marianna
Rhizoma perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata Benth.) is an important hay crop in Florida. Rhizoma peanut hay is locally produced within Florida, and it has important stakes in the horse and dairy industries. This warm-season perennial legume is also a valuable forage option for grazing systems (Dubeux et al., 2018). In addition to adding N via biological N2-fixation, rhizoma peanut has greater nutritive value than most warm-season perennial grasses. As a result, greater livestock performance is achieved when mixing this legume in grazing systems. Many producers using rhizoma peanut want to overseed their field with cool-season forages when the rhizoma peanut is dormant. Common questions that precede the decision to overseed rhizoma peanut fields are: 1) Will it hurt my rhizoma peanut regrowth in the following season? 2) Does it matter which cool-season forage I plant? How about annual ryegrass and clovers? Would they damage the rhizoma peanut because of their late growth in the season?
In order to address these questions, we set up a trial at the UF IFAS NFREC in Marianna, FL. We assessed different overseeding treatments on rhizoma peanut fields, including the control (no overseeding), Prine ryegrass, FL 401 rye, FL 401 rye/Prine ryegrass mix, Prine ryegrass/Crimson/Red/Ball clover mix, FL 401 rye/Crimson/Red/Ball clover mix, FL 401 rye/Prine ryegrass/Crimson/Red/Ball clover mix, and Crimson/Red/Ball clover mix. Seeding rates used are described in Table 1. These different overseeding treatments were applied on a dormant Florigraze sod using a no-till drill in 17 Nov 2015, after mowing the stand down to a 2-inches stubble height. We applied 150 lb/acre of 20-5-20 and 100 lb/acre of Kmag (22% K2O, 22% S, and 10.8% Mg) in all treatments. Plots were harvested three times: 11 Feb, 17 March, and 21 Apr 2016. After the third harvest, plots were fertilized with 300 lb/acre of Kmag. On 22 July 2016, we harvested the rhizoma peanut to assess whether or not the overseeding treatment affected the regrowth.
Overseeding treatments varied their biomass accumulation along the three harvests (Figure 1). Earlier forage types, such as FL 401 rye, produced more in the first harvest, as expected. Treatments with clovers and annual ryegrass produced more biomass later in the season, at the third harvest. The option of forage type or mixtures will depend on the objective of each operation. For hay producers, earlier forage production during the cool-season may free up the land earlier, allowing regrowth of rhizoma peanut without other forages being present. For grazing operations, mixtures would likely be a better option because they would help bridge the gap during the spring-summer transition.
Figure 1. Cool-season herbage accumulation of different overseeding treatments on Florigraze rhizoma peanut; UF IFAS NFREC Marianna; 2016.
In the summer harvest (July 2016), the rhizoma peanut from all treatments, including the control that was not overseeded, produced similar amounts of biomass across treatments (Figure 2). This result demonstrates the viability of overseeding rhizoma peanut fields with cool-season forages. The major aspect to highlight is the importance of timely harvest the cool-season forages during the springtime, allowing the rhizoma peanut to regrow.
Figure 2. Summer herbage accumulation of Florigraze rhizoma peanut after overseed during the cool-season with different forage options. UF IFAS NFREC Marianna; 2016.
We have been overseeding cool-season forages on strip-planted rhizoma peanut in a grazing trial (Figure 3A). We have been doing this for the last three years, and the rhizoma peanut is vigorous and growing (Figure 3C). The critical phase is the springtime, when rhizoma peanut (and bahiagrass) is starting to regrow (Figure 3B). During this transition, it is important to pay closer attention to the grazing management, in order to reduce the canopy density and open spaces to allow the perennial forages (rhizoma peanut and bahiagrass) to regrow.
Figure 3. Overseeding of cool-season forages on strip-planted rhizoma peanut in Marianna, FL. A. Cool-season mixture of FL401 rye-RAM oat-Dixie Crimson-Southern Belle red clover-Ball clover; B. transition period during the Spring; C. strip-planted rhizoma peanut growing during the summer. Photo Credit: Jose Dubeux, UF/IFAS
Rhizoma peanut can be overseeded during the cool-season with different forage options without reducing the warm-season regrowth. However, if the cool-season forages form a dense stand during the spring, it is important to graze it off or remove the excess forage with hay equipment. Harvest management during the spring is critical to allow regrowth of the rhizoma peanut.
Dubeux, J., L.E. Sollenberger, J. Vendramini, M. Wallau, A. Blount, L. Garcia-Jimenez, E. Santos, and D. Jaramillo. 2018. Strip-planting rhizoma peanut into grazing systems. EDIS SS-AGR-421. Printer friendly pdf version: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/AG/AG42100.pdf
Producers in the Florida Panhandle can receive financial assistance from multiple agencies to defer the cost of implementing Best Management Practices on-farm, such as improving irrigation efficiency. Photo credit: Ethan Carter.
Farmers and ranchers have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) that maintain or improve water quality, quantity and soil conditions on their lands for many years. Although BMPs are designed to be technically feasible and economically viable, implementing BMPs can be expensive for producers, and some practices may not be financially viable for all. Multiple agencies in our region recognize this and offer financial assistance to defer the cost of implementing BMPs.
In most areas of the Panhandle, implementation of BMPs is still voluntary, but for producers in an area with a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), such as the Jackson Blue Springs/Merritts Mill Pond Basin, BMP implementation and verification is required.
Financial Assistance to Implement BMPs
The following agencies continually offer financial assistance for producers in our region to implement agricultural BMPs.
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
NRCS offers financial assistance for farmers through two programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Staff at NRCS work with farmers and ranchers to develop a conservation plan to address particular on-farm resource concerns. Depending on the objectives of the farmer, these plans can include ways to reduce erosion and improve soil conditions, improve nutrient management and water quality, increase water-use efficiency and/or improve wildlife habitat.
The conservation plan outlines activities or practices to reach these objectives and NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help carry out these practices. For example, NRCS will provide financial assistance for exclusion fences for cattle around streams or wetlands as well as assistance for alternative watering systems, such as watering tanks, pipelines and solar wells. Other examples of what they help finance include cross-fencing for improved grazing management, soil sampling for improved nutrient management, irrigation retrofits, waste storage facilities for dairies, tree planting and forest stand improvement, and nesting boxes for wildlife. These are just a few examples – there are many more!
Financial assistance is provided at a flat rate for a particular practice (for example, per foot for fencing, per acre for weed treatment, per item for a well or a nesting box, etc.). In general, they do not offer financial assistance to purchase equipment.
For more information on available NRCS funding and how to apply, contact your local NRCS office. In the Panhandle, these contacts are found on the Florida Area 1 Directory. Applications for financial assistance are accepted year-round with batching deadlines in November.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)
FDACS also offers cost-share funds to producers so that they can effectively implement BMPs on-farm. Unlike NRCS, funding is largely (but not exclusively) for equipment purchases. They will fund up to 75% of the cost of equipment, which they then reimburse the producer once an item is purchased.
Funding falls under three broad BMP categories: (1) nutrient management, (2) irrigation management and (3) water resources protection. Examples of equipment and other items that FDACS will cost share include no-till grain drills and GPS guidance systems to reduce soil loss and improve nutrient management. To improve irrigation efficiency they provide funding for irrigation retrofits, nozzle packages, smart irrigation control panels and soil moisture sensors. To protect water resources, they, like NRCS, provide financial assistance for cattle exclusion fences and solar wells so ranchers can have alternative water sources for their animals. These are just a few examples of the equipment that can be purchased through the FDACS cost-share program. It is important for producers to work with their local FDACS field technician to determine which BMP practices are feasible on their operation. To receive cost-share funds, producers have to have been in production for at least one year and they must be enrolled in the BMP Program.
Contact your local FDACS field technician for more information on available cost-share funding and how to apply. Applications are accepted year-round.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD)
The NWFWMD’s cost-share program for producers is focused on improving water quality and increasing water-use efficiency in the Jackson Blue Springs Basin. To be eligible for funding, farming operations have to be located within the spring basin and producers must be enrolled in the FDACS BMP Program. Under the current BMP grant program, the district is accepting cost-share applications year-round, through September 2019.
Funding is available to cost share up to 75% of BMPs such as irrigation system retrofits, pump upgrades (high to low pressure), remote control systems for irrigation, control panel upgrades, endgun controls, fertigation systems, and other precision agriculture tools.
For more information about the NWFWMD’s cost share program, please contact Linda Chaisson by phone at (850) 539-5999 or by email at Linda.Chaisson@nwfwater.com. To find out if your farming operation falls within the Jackson Blue Springs Basin, the district’s BMP website provides links to a street view map and an aerial view map of the basin, as well as additional information about the BMP program.
The three agencies listed above are not the only entities offering financial assistance for BMP implementation in our region. Interested producers can also receive cost-share funds from the FDACS’s Office of Energy to improve energy efficiency on-farm. Other organizations may also receive grants to help producers defer the costs of BMPs, and as we at UF/IFAS Extension hear about these opportunities, we will work to get that information out to you.
Limpograss shows real potential as an alternative forage grass for North Florida, providing significant summer growth, and can be stockpiled for grazing through December. Photo credit: Yoana Newman
Jose Dubeux, Erick Santos, David Jaramillo, Liza Garcia, UF-IFAS NFREC
Limpograss (Hemarthria altissima) has been successfully adopted in South Florida by livestock producers. This unique grass grows well in flatwood soils, and maintains its digestibility for longer periods than other warm-season grasses (e.g. bahiagrass and bermudagrass), making it a good candidate for stockpiling. Limpograss is also less sensitive to day-length than other grasses, growing during the cool-season, especially in mild-winters in South Florida. After a frost, limpograss will be one of the first warm-season grasses to initiate regrowth. The first cultivars were released in Florida during the 1970s and 80s, and include the diploids “Redalta” and “Greenalta” and the tetraploids “Bigalta” and “Floralta” (Newman et al., 2014). Recently, two new cultivars were released, “Kenhy” and “Gibtuck.” These cultivars provide increased grazing tolerance, greater productivity, and nutritive value compared to previously released cultivars (Wallau et al., 2015). Limpograss is often used for stockpiling, considering its slower loss of digestibility compared to other warm-season grasses.
The potential of limpograss in North Florida, however, has not fully been assessed. Although limpograss collections have been established in North Florida since 2005, a comprehensive evaluation including biomass productivity and nutritive value of the new cultivars has not been evaluated. The persistence of limpograss throughout these years, however, shows the possibility to grow this species in North Florida, despite the cooler temperatures compared to South Florida.
Along the Florida Panhandle there are vast areas that can potentially be used with limpograss, especially along the Gulf coast. One of the concerns of growing limpograss in North Florida is the shorter growing season, as compared to South Florida, because of the earlier frost. Comprehensive evaluations are necessary in order to assess these potential differences of limpograss performance in contrasting Florida environments.
Researchers established a limpograss trial at the UF-IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Marianna, Florida. Plots were established in July 2014 and included four limpograss cultivars (breeding line 1 and the cultivars Kenhy, Floralta, and Gibtuck). For comparison, the trial also included Tifton-85 bermudagrass as a control. From May 2015 to Feb 2017, researchers evaluated biomass productivity and digestibility (IVOMD) of these different grasses. Harvesting started in May of each year, with 5-week intervals between harvests and 7 inches cutting height. From May to August, after each harvest, plots received 60 lb. N/acre, 15 lb. P2O5/acre, and 60 lb. K2O/acre. Starting in September, a stockpiling scenario was simulated by letting the plants grow and harvesting only a portion of each plot every 5 weeks. Forage harvest measurements were taken to evaluate the cumulative growth since August.
During the summer growth of 2016, forage growth peaked in July. Gibtuck was one of the most productive among the limpograss cultivars with comparable growth to Tifton-85 Bermudagrass, which is considered one of the most productive Bermudagrass cultivars available (Figure 1). Starting in September, plants accumulated biomass until December, showing their potential for use for stockpiling in North Florida. During the primary stockpiling period, Kenhy showed the greatest potential. After December, there was limited gain in biomass accumulation for most of the cultivars (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Herbage accumulation of limpograss germplasm and Tifton-85 bermudagrass from May 2015 to Jan 2016. UF-IFAS NFREC, Marianna, FL.
In the second year (May 2016 to Jan 2017), forages peaked earlier in the growing season and declined during the summer. This likely reflects the reduced rainfall combined with the frequent harvesting (5 weeks) compromising the productivity not only of the limpograss, but also of the Tifton-85 bermudagrass. During the stockpiling period, the grasses demonstrated a similar trend of biomass accumulation until December (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Herbage accumulation of limpograss germplasm and Tifton-85 bermudagrass from May 2016 to Jan 2017. UF-IFAS NFREC, Marianna, FL.
Digestibility (IVOMD) of limpograss was often greater than Tifton-85 bermudagrass, especially during the stockpiling period (Figure 3). Limpograss digestibility (IVOMD = 55-60%) was maintained through December 2016, when it was significantly reduced, due to colder temperatures and frosts. The growth and digestibility data indicate that limpograss can be used during the summer, and for stockpiling at least through December without significant loss in digestibility. This would be sufficient to fill the November-December forage gap that often occurs in the Panhandle, allowing time for the cool-season forage production to ramp up. As a result, stockpiled limpograss could be utilized to reduce hay requirements, and ultimately reduce winter feeding expenses.
Figure 3. In vitro organic matter digestibility (IVOMD) of limpograss germplasm and Tifton-85 bermudagrass from May 2015 to Feb 2016. UF-IFAS NFREC, Marianna, FL.
Take Home Message
The results of this two-year trial in Marianna are encouraging. Limpograss shows real potential as an alternative forage grass for North Florida. Limpograss provided significant summer growth, but adds the potential use for stockpiled grazing through December. In general, limpograss was more digestible than Tifton-85 bermudagrass, especially during the stockpiling period. Variations among limpograss cultivars occurred, but those differences were not consistent over the two years. Therefore, all the cultivars tested have potential for use in North Florida. Longer-term evaluation with animal performance is still needed to fully asses the potential of limpograss in North Florida, but the results from this trial show that further evaluation is warranted.
- Newman, Y.C., J. Vendramini, L.E. Sollenberger, and K. Quesenberry. 2014. Limpograss (Hemarthria altissima): overview and management. EDIS SS-AGR-320.
- Wallau, M.O., L.E. Sollenberger, J.M.B. Vendramini, M.K. Mullenix, K.H. Quesenberry, C.A.M. Gomide, V. Costa e Silva, and N. DiLorenzo. Herbage accumulation and nutritive value of limpograss breeding lines under stockpiling management. Crop Science 55:2377-2383.
Pasture fertilization is a significant expense. Photo Credit: Doug Mayo
One area of management that often comes up in discussions with producers managing smaller herds is pasture fertilization. There are several aspects that can be confusing. The first questions are, “Should I fertilize?” and, “Is it worth the money?” The next question is, “How much fertilizer do I need?” And generally, the final question, “What should I ask my supplier for?” When you ask these questions, however, be ready for the return question, “Have you taken a soil test?”
In declining cattle markets, the question of “Should I fertilize?” is a subject of much debate. You don’t have to fertilize bahiagrass pastures, but there are consequences if you don’t adjust your stocking rate. If you don’t fertilize or reduce your stocking rate, there may not be enough grass in the fall transition, and eventually there will be issues from thinning stands and weed encroachment.
Basic soil management for forages, or any crop, requires that the soil be maintained in the optimal pH range for the specific target crop to ensure productivity and persistence. For tropical forages, such as Bahiagrass, Bermudagrass, and Limpograss the optimal pH range is 5.0-5.5. Outside of the optimal pH range, soil nutrients are less available to the plant. This is one of the key reasons that periodic soil testing is recommended for pastures. Lime or dolomite are utilized interchangeably to raise the soil pH. Liming pastures is relatively inexpensive because it is generally only required every 2-4 years.
So, should you fertilize? If the soil pH falls below the optimal range, the answer is yes. For $40 per ton, the return on investment in lime or dolomite is high. If you do nothing else for your pastures this year, make sure to lime the Bahia and Bermuda fields that fall below 5.5, or limpograss fields below 5.0. If you can’t remember how long ago you had your soil tested, send in a soil sample, and and at least find out the pH status of your pastures.
Soil tests don’t provide the amount of nitrogen in the soil, because those amounts are constantly changing. Nitrogen (N), and to some degree potassium (K), move with water in the soil profile. With each heavy rain, some nitrogen is flushed down through the soil profile, away from the root zone of plants. There are 16 essential elements for plant growth and reproduction, but nitrogen is the key element that plants require for growth. In other words, “Nitrogen is the gas that makes grass grow!” The chart below is the summary of a classic six-year study conducted a the UF Beef Research Unit from 1966-71 by W.G. Blue, UF Soil Chemist: Role of Pensacola Bahiagrass Stolon-Root Systems in Leon Fine Sand.
What is interesting from this study is that the season-long forage yield more than doubled when 100 lbs.N/acre was applied as compared to no added N. However, with each increase beyond 100 lbs.N/acre, the return on investment diminished. It is important to note that all of the plots were fertilized equally with phosphorous and potassium, at a soil pH of 6.0, so the yield in the 0 N, or control plots, were only limited by the lack of nitrogen. These research plots received split applications of fertilizer, so none of these treatments were a single N application. This classic study shows what numerous others have shown since then, that nitrogen fertilization generates a significant boost to bahiagrass production.
Urea fertilizer (46% N) is currently priced at an average of $414/ton, which equates to 45¢/lb. of elemental N. The reported 119% season-long increase in forage production per acre would require a $45 investment in nitrogen fertilizer today. When you add the $7/acre cost to spread the fertilizer, and you have a stocking rate of 2 acres per cow-calf pair, the total cost is $104 per pair ($52/acre). So, based on the data from this classic study, a $104 investment provided 3.4 tons more feed per pair over the entire growing season for a unit cost of $31/ton. At the end of April, good quality Bermudagrass hay was selling for an average of $90/ton, and whole cottonseed $158/ton, so this is considerably cheaper than purchase feeds. This is also feed that requires limited labor to provide, with minimal waste, under typical weather conditions. In addition, fertilized grass provides more protein than unfertilized grass, so animal performance (gain/acre) would also be boosted, as compared to unfertilized pastures.
If you don’t have the funds to invest $52/acre for all of your pasture acreage, then consider applying only of 50 lbs.N/acre in the spring. You don’t have to fertilize every acre either. Invest in your most productive pastures first, and then rotate to other pastures in future years. Fertilizer is an expensive purchase, and when cattle prices are falling, every purchasing decision has to be scrutinized. The bottom line is that nitrogen fertilizer is really an investment in producing feed for your herd that they harvest for themselves. Conversely, if you make the decision to eliminate nitrogen fertilization, your pasture will produce less feed, so you also need to reduce the number of cattle your pastures are expected to feed.
P & K Fertilization
The next question is how much P & K fertilizer do you need for your bahiagrass pastures? In general, grasses need N-P-K fertilizer in a 4-1-2 ratio. So, you would not want to use 13-13-13 or 10-10-10 for grass pastures, but instead something like a mix of 16-4-8 or 20-5-10. The better option, however, is to send in a soil and tissue sample to get a lab test report that provides specific recommendations for the rate of lime, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) fertilization on a per acre basis. The N fertilization level is a decision the manager has to make. The University of Florida’s soil test-based fertilizer recommendations provide options for three levels of nitrogen fertilization. The recommendations for P and K will be different based on the nitrogen fertilization level you select.
The final question I normally get is, “What should I order from my farm supply dealer?” This does sometimes get confusing, because recommendations are made in pounds of nutrients per acre, not the total pounds of fertilizer. Urea, for example, is only 46% elemental nitrogen, so it takes 109 pounds of urea to provide 50 lbs.N/acre. Ammonium nitrate is 34% N, so it takes 147 pounds to reach the 50 lbs.N/acre target. The same is true for the various sources used for P and K. Farm supply dealers handle a variety of products from different sources with varied mineral make up. There is no standard recipe. Take your soil test recommendations with you, so your dealer can help you do the calculations as to the total pounds of the blended fertilizer you want applied.
If you have questions about pasture fertilization, soil and tissue testing, or the soil test report recommendations, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Agent. Make sure you clearly understand the options, before making an investment of this magnitude.
Commercial cow grazing at the North Florida Research and Education Center, Marianna. Credit: Doug Mayo
Marcelo Wallau – UF/IFAS Forages Extension Specialist, Caitlin Bainum – UF Agronomy Department MS Student and Marion Co. Agriculture & Natural Resources Extension Agent, and Liliane Severino da Silva – UF Agronomy Department PhD Student
It is never too early to start planning. As summer approaches, our main forage growing season in Florida, there are a few steps to be taken to ensure you have a great season and get the most out of it productively! Stuth et al. (1991) divided resource planning for grazing lands into long-, medium- and short-term plans. Long-term is the strategic planning, defining objectives, goals, focus animal category, markets, policies, financing and land improvement investments. The medium-term is the tactical planning, where we define the forage budget, needs and supply of forage, stock adjustment, nutritional balance and health management. Last, is the day-to-day, the short-term, the operational planning. At this point, we assess forage supply, identify needs for restocking or destocking, or supplemental feed for nutritional mediation, and health treatment. Flexibility is the key word for this level, so we can easily correct eventual problems. Here, we will focus on medium-term planning that can help you get the most out of this next grazing season.
First, evaluate your pasture conditions – Think about the history of your pasture, how productive it was last year, the challenges faced, how was the management in terms of grazing, fertilization, weed control, etc. If you encountered problems last year, more likely they will repeat this year, unless you mitigate them. Last year was quite challenging for most parts of Florida, starting with a drought over spring and summer, then with excessive water leading to flooded pastures for the remaining of summer and into early fall. Those disturbances could have imposed significant stress to your pastures, leached nutrients and even reduced persistence by reducing the amount of energy reserves for the plants. All of this could mean that you are in for a late start this year. Overgrazed pastures will have a similar effect, with reserves depleted, they will take longer to start greening the following spring. This can result in higher weed pressure and further delay grazing. Thus, soil test and check what nutrients are missing, and plan your applications for early in the season, when plants are starting to grow, so they can use the nutrients, especially nitrogen, better. Many problems on pasture persistence, disease or insect susceptibility are linked to deficiency in potassium (K), for example. Talking about weed pressure, was there any weed problem last year that could be addressed now? For some weeds, hitting them in the beginning of the season can result in better control and less expense. Scout for weeds, ID them, and consult your extension agent on which is the best product and strategy that suits your needs.
1 – Calculate your forage budget
Like your bank account, you need to have a balance between resources available and demands. If you need more forage than you can produce, then you are in the red, which will cost you money in importing supplies. So, first, calculate your forage supply to learn your carrying capacity. Create an excel spreadsheet, map your areas, evaluate the conditions of your pasture and calculate how much forage you can produce. Figure 1 provides some general values for daily herbage accumulation rates (lb of dry mater [DM] per acre per day) that some of the most common species in Florida produce. Those values change according to fertilization rate, water availability and grazing management, but are a good reference for starting a forage budget. Remember to always leave 1200 lb of DM/acre as stubble, in other words, use only 50 to 60% of the accumulation rate, to ensure that you have enough forage for your cattle as well as the plant’s demands for surviving. Another way to look at it is to always offer 2 to 3 times more than the animal needs to consume per day.
The second step is to determine your demand both in terms of quantity and quality of forage needed. This way you can adjust your management practices, use techniques to enhance the nutritive value of forages produced, and finally, see if there is need to reduce or expand your herd accordingly. Take into consideration that your cattle need to eat around 2.7% of their body weight in dry matter per day (between 2 and 3%, depending on forage quality and physiological stage), and that dry cows need significantly lower quality forage (8% crude protein) as compared to lactating cows and growing animals (12 to 16%).
The third step is to calculate the balance between supply and demand for forages. In many cases, demand for forage exceeds supply, requiring destocking, or finding extra sources of feed in the form of supplement, hay, or extra pasture. If you have extra supply, then there could be an opportunity to retain or purchase more animals, or harvest for hay or haylage. Nitrogen fertilization can increase the quantity and quality of forage produced. But remember, no management practice for the pasture (fertilization, rotational grazing, etc) will overcome overgrazing.
Figure 1. Herbage accumulation rate (lb of dry matter [DM]/acre.day) for bahiagrass and limpograss (Gainesville, FL) and bermudagrass (Marianna, FL) (data courtesy of Drs. José Dubuex and Lynn Sollenberger).
2 – Plan your pasture utilization strategically
Think about your farm as a mosaic of different soil patches and pasture types, and plan forage management to match your property to optimize pasture use along this mosaic over the year. Some forages, like limpograss, for example, are more adapted to lower areas susceptible to periodic flooding. Those areas are also generally wetter in the spring. This means that limpograss could be an early starter and also a late player, with possibility for stockpiling forage for fall use. Protein, however, is very low, so factor in using this with mature cows and the need for protein supplementation. Bermudagrass has production more concentrated in the summer months, and is an excellent forage for growing animals, like weaned calves and replacement heifers, for example. For summer pastures overseeded with cool-season forages, remember to reduce competition (graze down the cool-season forage) towards the end of the spring, so you can reduce competition for your bahiagrass or bermudagrass. Also think about the areas that could be used for cool-season forages next fall, and manage them accordingly. When you start thinking about the farm as a whole, with different forage species and management strategies, it becomes easier to fit the different pieces together and make a system.
3 – Keep it simple and flexible
Simple strategies can solve many problems! Before implementing more advanced management techniques, do the simple steps first. Again, no management practice can overcome excessive grazing, and any applied management will have the response limited by the lack of forage. So, start with the forage budget, then think about fertilizing your pastures, supplementing your cattle, and then move on to more complex management systems. And, always keep it flexible, leave room for error and unexpected events. Expecting too much or working close to the limit of forage availability can be risky, any change in weather or market prices that requires you to retain cattle longer can have some serious implications in your system. Different than cattle, pastures don’t have compensatory gain, and mismanagement can set you back half a year or more.
4 – Assess, evaluate, and re-assess
You can only improve what you can measure, so take notes, measure your pasture productivity and animal performance, record and evaluate that in comparison to your goals. Those notes will help you for next year’s planning. Make sure your goals are in accordance to your production capacity.
Reference: Stuth, J.W.J. R. Conner, and R. K. Heitschmidt. 1991. The decision- making environment and planning paradigm. In Heitschmidt and Stuth, eds. Grazing management. 201-24.
Cows gathered around a hay feeder in Washington County. This has been an all too common scene this winter while cattle and cattlemen alike wait on cool-season forages, which have gotten off to a slow and rocky start this year. Photo credit: Mark Mauldin
Cool-season annuals (ryegrass, small grains, clovers, etc.) are a vital part of our forage systems here in Northwest Florida and throughout the Southeast. Generally speaking, cool-season annuals are the highest quality forage we are able to produce. The significance of these forages is evidenced by the fact that many producers time their calving seasons so that the herd’s period of peak nutritional demand coincides with the peak production period of cool-season forages.
A tough season for cool-season forages
The recommended fall planting window (October 1 – November 15) was abnormally dry, forcing most producers to plant later than recommended. Later plantings force seedlings to emerge to colder temperatures (soil and air) and shorter days, with fewer hours of sunlight each day. Both of these factors cause forages to get off to very slow starts. Even ambitious producers that planted early, before the drought set in, faced significant challenges. Worst-case scenario, early plantings germinated and then died during the prolonged dry period. Best-case scenario, plant growth was so limited by dry conditions that expected plant performance advantages associated with timely planting have only recently become noticeable.
To further compound the situation, when the rain finally came, cold conditions (brutally cold by Florida standards) came with it. Keep in mind, the forages in question are referred to as “cool-season” not “cold-season.” While we generally are not concerned about Florida winter temperatures killing these plants, truly cold conditions can damage them, and will certainly prevent them from peak performance. In other words, forages that got off to a slow start from limited moisture were further delayed by the extended cold weather this year.
As growing conditions have improved in recent weeks the significance of planting date has become more evident in this Washington County ryegrass. These images were taken on 2/15/18, all within 10 minutes and 100 yds. of each other. None of these fields have been grazed. Photo credit : Mark Mauldin
Finally, growing conditions have improved considerably recently. Moisture has been adequate, even excessive this past week, and temperatures have warmed considerably. These factors combined with the lengthening days have really kicked forages into gear.
Key Forage Management Considerations
- Be patient; don’t graze your forages too soon. Let forages accumulate adequate leaf area/height before grazing. Ryegrass and small grains need have 8 to 12 inches of growth before grazing.
- Don’t graze forages too close. Removing all or nearly all leaf area greatly reduces the plants’ ability to regrow after grazing. The more leaf area left the faster the plants will regrow. The concept of “Take Half, Leave Half” is good to keep in mind when determining grazing height. Never graze ryegrass or small grains shorter than 3 inches, if regrowth if desired.
- Maximize forage utilization by implementing some form of controlled grazing. When cattle are allowed continuous access to forages, they will graze preferentially and trample more forage. When access is restricted by space, time, or both, cattle will graze more efficiently and forage utilization will increase.
- Allocate forages strategically. Cool-season annuals have a very high nutritional value. When they are in short supply, reserve them for animals that have the highest nutritional demands; lactating females and/or growing animals. This practice can greatly increase the value cool-season annuals bring to your operation, but it requires the ability and willingness to sort and manage cattle in different groups.
- Don’t forget about soil fertility. Maintaining adequate soil fertility will bolster plant performance. In many cases the performance of under fertilized forages will not be sufficient to warrant the initial establishment cost. Additionally, stressors, like nutrient deficiencies, can prompt annuals to forgo vegetative growth for reproductive growth, and set seed earlier than they otherwise would have.
- Maximize the growing season of annual forages. When annual plants make seed they stop vegetative growth. If conditions remain favorable and forages are able to “get ahead of the cows” be prepared to adjust stocking rates and/or controlled grazing practices to delay seed production for as long as possible, by allowing cattle to keep forages “toped-off”. As we get later into the spring, consider stockpiling forages planted on prepared ground and grazing over-seeded forages harder to prevent damage to the underlying perennial forages as they break dormancy.
[important]I understand. You’re tired of feeding so much hay, you’re past ready to turn out onto some grazing, your cows are tearing through the fence to get to something green, but that doesn’t mean you can throw open the gate and walk away. Years with poor growing conditions call for better management than years when conditions are optimal. The financial investment associated with establishing forages is the same regardless of the production; do what you can to maximize your return on investment.[/important]
Distribution of cool-season forage growth during a “normal” year. We are just entering the major growth period for the majority of our cool-season forages. Don’t give up on management; take full advantage of the remainder of the growing season. Image from: Forage Systems for Stocker Cattle, UGA Extension Bulletin 1392.
We don’t know how long growing conditions will remain favorable. Take steps now to ensure that your cool-season forages are able to bring as much value to your operation as possible. Even if it seems like your forages are really under-performing this year, don’t give up on management. Well managed cool-season annuals still have several months of growth left. There is still time to produce a substantial amount of nutrition for your herd. The considerations listed above are general guidelines. Every operation has different challenges and opportunities. Consult with your county’s UF/IFAS Agriculture Agent for assistance implementing strategies that can help you get the most out of your cool-season forages, this year, and in the future.