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Evaluate forage for improvement opportunities

Agriculture.com Staff 12/04/2007 @ 7:22am

After this year's stress on perennial forage pastures, forage stands need to be evaluated, says a Purdue University expert in a university report.

The April freeze, coupled with the dry summer, left some Indiana pastures in poor condition. However, this creates an opportunity for growers to make improvements, according to Keith Johnson, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service forage expert.

Johnson recommends:

  • Having a soil test done, if one hasn't been done recently
  • Walking the pastures
  • Evaluating the fields
  • Checking for winter-annual weeds in alfalfa fields
  • Implementing a rotational grazing management system
  • Testing forage to be fed this winter

"Having a soil test done could mean the possible application of limestone and fertilizer," Johnson says. "Increasing soil pH with lime is time-dependent. It's much better to have the lime applied in the fall rather than doing it a week before seeding in the early spring."

Johnson recommends walking the pasture to look at the composition of the field.

"Ask yourself, is the stand thick or are there bare areas? Is there a less than ideal amount of legume left in the stand?" Johnson says.

Two plants per square foot of legume in a grass/legume pasture or hayfield should be used as the baseline, he adds.

"If the baseline is not met, that's an indication that growers need to think about over-seeding an adapted legume in the late winter," Johnson says. "While walking the fields, it's important for growers to check for the presence of winter-annual weeds, like downy bromegrass or chickweed.

"Many herbicides labeled for the control of winter-annual weeds are to be used when the alfalfa stand is dormant. We are at the point where dormancy has been initiated. If growers wait, there are not near as many choices to control these weeds in the springtime when there has been a break in dormancy."

Johnson also advises using a rotational grazing management system. Rotational grazing is when a pasture is divided up into subunits of the pasture called paddocks.

"This allows the plants to rest," Johnson says. "Just like people and livestock, plants need rest to be most vigorous.

"Rotational grazing helps keep plants in better vigor and allows for more uniform quality through the season. Rotational grazing also allows us to begin grazing earlier in the spring and later into the fall."

Growers can also take a portion of their pasture acres in the spring and harvest it as hay, Johnson adds.

Livestock owners who will be feeding forages (hay, silage and crop residues) this winter should have them tested for nutrient composition.

"We have a lot of different things that are going to be fed this year that are less than usual," Johnson says. "A lot of corn residue has been baled, and I know that some soybean stubble has been baled, too. Some Conservation Reserve Program vegetation was harvested as hay and its quality is probably not going to be very high.

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