2019 Forage Quality Concerns

By Ted Wiseman and Dean Kreager OSU Extension Educators

Much of Ohio’s 2019 first cutting grass hay was beyond optimum maturity when it was harvested. Laboratory analysis indicates little if any first cutting has adequate quality to meet the nutritional needs of bred cows in late gestation or lactation.

You may be thinking enough already with the hay quality talk. Many articles have been sent out on this topic starting before some people even baled their first cutting. Last year a lot of the hay was very poor quality and many animals lost significant weight through the winter. Some animals even died with hay in front of them because the hay did not have enough nutritional value. Hay quality affects all types of livestock but I will concentrate on beef cows since they are less likely to receive supplemental feed than most other animals. Continue reading

Late Summer Establishment of Perennial Forages

By Rory Lewandowski, Mark Sulc, OSU Extension

We are quickly approaching the second good opportunity of the year for establishing perennial forage stands, which is in the month of August. Most of us were not able to establish forages this spring, and many existing stands were damaged by the winter followed by the heavy rainfall this year. It is time to make preparations and be ready to plant perennial forage stands in the next few weeks.

Typically, the main risk with late summer forage seedings is sufficient moisture for seed germination and plant establishment. However, many parts of Ohio have adequate soil moisture from recent rains, and the outlook for the first half of August is for normal precipitation levels. Prepare now and be ready to take advantage of planting ahead of storm fronts as they occur in late July and early August.

Advantages to late summer forage establishment include the following: forage seedlings are not competing with the flush of annual spring and summer weed emergence/growth, soil borne root rot and damping off disease organisms that thrive in cool, wet soils are usually not an issue, and there may be fewer competing farm tasks than in the spring.

A very important consideration for seeding forages that is especially relevant this year is herbicide carryover restrictions. This will certainly be an issue to check on acres where corn and soybean herbicides were applied earlier this year in anticipation of planting, but rains prevented those crops from being planted. Before you consider establishing perennial forages on those prevented plant acres, please be aware that many grain crop herbicides have long rotation interval restrictions that will not allow safe planting of forages this year. The 2019 Ohio. Indiana, Illinois Weed Control Guide provides a summary table of herbicide rotation intervals for alfalfa and clovers (see http://go.osu.edu/herbrotationintervals).  Forage grasses are not included in that table, but any restrictions will be stated on the herbicide labels. So, be sure to double-check your herbicide application history against the rotation restrictions stated on the labels for the forages you want to establish.

No-till seeding in August is an excellent choice to conserve soil moisture for good germination. Make sure that the field surface is relatively level and smooth if you plan to no-till seed because you will have to live with any field roughness for several years of harvesting operations. Sclerotinia crown and stem rot is a concern with no-till seedings of alfalfa in late summer and especially where clover has been present in the past. This pathogen causes white mold on alfalfa seedlings. They become infected during cooler rainy spells in late October and November, the disease develops during the winter, and seedlings literally “melt away” in winter and early spring. It can be devastating where the pathogen is present. No-till is especially risky where clover has been present because the sclerotia germinate from a shallow depth. Early August plantings dramatically improve the alfalfa’s ability to resist the infection. Late August seedings are very susceptible, with mid-August plantings being intermediate.

In a no-till situation, minimize competition from existing weeds by applying a burndown application of glyphosate before planting. Using no-till when herbicide-resistant weeds are present, such as marestail in a previous wheat field, creates a very difficult situation with no effective control options, so tillage is probably a better choice in those situations.  

Post-emergence herbicide options exist for alfalfa to control late summer and fall emerging winter annual broadleaf weeds. A mid- to late fall application of Butyrac (2,4-DB), bromoxynil, Pursuit or Raptor are the primary herbicide options for winter annual broadleaf weeds. Fall application is much more effective than a spring application for control of these weeds especially if wild radish/wild turnip are in the weed mix.  Pursuit and Raptor can control winter annual grasses in the fall in pure legume stands but not with a mixed alfalfa/grass planting.  Consult the 2019 Ohio, Indiana, Illinois Weed Control Guide and always read the specific product label for guidelines on timing and rates before applying any product.

For conventional tillage seeding prepare a firm seedbed to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Be aware that too much tillage depletes soil moisture and increases the risk of soil crusting. Follow the “footprint guide” that soil should be firm enough for a footprint to sink no deeper than one-half inch.  Tilled seedbeds do not need a pre-plant herbicide.

Finally, keep in mind the following factors to increase establishment success.

  • Soil fertility and pH: The recommended soil pH for alfalfa is 6.5 to 6.8. Forage grasses and clovers should have a pH of 6.0 or above. The minimum or critical soil phosphorus level for forage legumes is 25 ppm Bray P1 or 34 ppm Mehlich-3 and for grasses it is 15 ppm Bray P1 and 20 ppm Mehlich-3. The critical soil potassium level is somewhere between 100 and 125 ppm for many of our soils.
  • Seed selection: Be sure to use high quality seed of adapted, tested varieties and use fresh inoculum of the proper Rhizobium bacteria for legume seeds. “Common” seed (variety not stated) is usually lower yielding and not as persistent, and from our trials the savings in seed cost is lost within the first year or two through lower forage yields.
  • Planting date: According to the 15th edition of the Ohio Agronomy guide, planting of alfalfa and other legumes should be completed between late July and mid-August in Northern Ohio and between early and late August in Southern Ohio. Most cool-season perennial grasses can be planted a little later. Check the Ohio Agronomy Guide (see http://go.osu.edu/forage-seeding-dates).
  • Planter calibration: If coated seed is used, be aware that coatings can account for up to one-third of the weight of the seed. This affects the number of seeds planted in planters set to plant seed on a weight basis. Seed coatings can also dramatically alter how the seed flows through the drill, so calibrate the drill or planter with the seed going into the field.
  • Seed placement: The recommended seeding depth for forages is one-quarter to one-half inch deep. It is better to err on the side of planting shallow rather than too deep.

Do not harvest a new perennial forage stand this fall. The ONLY exception to this rule is perennial and Italian ryegrass plantings.  Mow or harvest these grasses to a two and a half to three-inch stubble in late November to improve winter survival.  Do not cut any other species, especially legumes.

Forages and Cover Crops for Beef Producers

by Stan Smith, OSU Extension

It goes without saying, for many, what we’ve experienced in the beef cattle industry beginning last year and continuing to this point in 2019 is uncharted territory. In response to the struggle to get corn planted and hay made this year, lots of questions have resulted. Following are responses to a few of those most Frequently Asked Questions thus far:

I didn’t get my hay fields fertilized last fall or this spring. Can I fertilize it now that first cutting just came off without “burning it up?”

Yes, in fact immediately after first cutting is removed is a particularly good time to fertilize grass hay fields. The gain is not only in the benefit of replacing the P and K that’s been removed, but also the opportunity to give grass a boost from the nitrogen that comes along with most phosphorus fertilizers. There’s more about fertilizing hay in this BEEF Cattle letter article from a few years ago: http://u.osu.edu/beef/2015/09/02/have-you-fertilized-your-hay-fields-yet/

How much nitrogen could I, or should I apply now?

After a first cutting of predominantly grass hay, 40 to 50 pounds of actual N should optimize second cutting yield (assuming it doesn’t quit raining now!). The nitrogen that comes along with 18-46-0 should be stable, but if urea or UAN are used, applying them right before rain will help to minimize N volatilization losses.

I heard cereal rye made great feed when planted on vacant acres. I was thinking about using it as a cover crop to bale after September 1, but my neighbor said he planted it one summer and it never got over 8 inches tall . . . should I use oats instead, and why?

If you need forage or bedding yet this year, oats will be most productive of the two. Cereal rye is much like wheat in it’s growth and will not provide abundant growth until after it’s gone dormant this winter. Here’s more detail from an article that was posted a while back: http://u.osu.edu/beef/2011/06/22/why-oats-and-not-cereal-rye-or-wheat/

I hear that cereal rye and ryegrass would both make good covers for planting later this summer and that I could then bale next spring. What’s the difference, and which one do I want?

Ryegrass will result in higher quality feed while cereal rye may offer more tonnage from a single cutting. Cereal rye also makes better bedding than ryegrass.  If fertilized properly, ryegrass could offer a second cutting of high quality feed in the early summer. Here’s a more extensive comparison of the two from the Oregon Ryegrass Growers Commission at ryegrass.com: https://www.ryegrass.com/publications/cereal-vs-annual-final.pdf

I got some of what ultimately have become my Prevented Planting acres sprayed with herbicides. If I plant those acres to a cover crop for feed, are there any issues with grazing or feeding the resulting crop?

The only way to know is to check the label of the herbicides that were applied. The Ohio, Indiana and Illinois Weed Control Guide also has useful information in that regard.

If I plant soybeans (or other legumes) as a cover crop, what kind of cattle feeding complications should I be concerned with if I use these cover crops for silage, grazing or hay harvested after September 1?

Because excess fat from soybeans can depress fermentation in the rumen, the maximum amount of soybean forage that can be fed should be based on its fat concentration. Find more detail in this article from 2005 by Mark Sulc: http://u.osu.edu/beef/2005/08/17/harvesting-soybeans-for-forage/

I want to use Canadian feed oats for a cover crop, but in order to receive the recently announced NRCS EQIP cover crop cost share money for them, I must have them tested for purity, germ, and % weed seeds. Where can I get this done?

The Ohio Department of Agriculture can do this testing and presently there is no cost:

  • Farmers can send a one quart bag full of seeds for testing to ODA.
  • ODA sends the samples they receive to a lab out of state for testing.
  • Presently each Ohio farmer can get a total of 3 seed lots tested for free.
  • Turn around time on the tests would be 2 to 3 weeks depending on what day they are received.
  • More info from ODA on seed testing can be found here.