– Victor Shelton, NRCS State Agronomist/Grazing Specialist
This will probably be another one of those years that we won’t forget about for a while and we may be telling future generations, “Back in ’15, it rained so much that ducks started carrying umbrellas.” Pastures have grown quite well with all the rain and so have yards. I don’t remember ever needing to mow every four days in July; not to say that I did.
Forage should not be in shortage. Quality hay might be. This is generally the time frame I like to talk about seeding new pasture or reseeding a pasture. Early August to mid-September is an excellent time to plant cool-season grasses. One of the advantages of seeding this time of the year as compared to a spring seeding is lower competition from weeds and getting enough good growth to guarantee them to survive the coming winter months.
Moisture is really not much of an issue in most areas. If you happen to be a little on the dry side, no worries, the seed this time of year will wait on a rain. Later plantings, generally after September 15th, can work some years but are more precarious and may require a longer establishment period prior to grazing. If you are waiting for a row crop to be harvested prior to seeding, then time is not always on your side depending on the harvest date. Tall fescues and timothy probably handle being seeded later than other cool season forages, but may require a nurse crop, such as wheat or oats to survive over winter.
I always recommend to shop around and choose high quality seed, preferably named varieties, and from reputable companies. Do the math and seed at pure live seed (PLS) rates. Take the amount of seed needed for example (6 lbs. /Ac PLS) and divide it by (percent purity x percent germination). 6 lbs. divided by (.90 x .85) = 7.84 pounds of seed needed per acre. It takes more seed if the germination or purity is low. You can do the same calculation and compare prices by dividing the price of the seed per pound by the PLS percent and see what the true cost is of the seed. $1.50 per pound seed at the previous PLS rate is actually about $2 per pound ($1.50/ (.90 x .85)). Compare that price to some of the seed on sale, always checking the seed tag and testing date. A bargain is not always a bargain. Do the math. I actually like seed grown the previous year, not the same year; it normally has less dormant seed and can germinate quicker.
The forages you chose to plant should match the site conditions, including soils they will be grown in, plant hardiness zone, to what degree they will be managed, the livestock requirements consuming it, and the use: grazing, haying, stockpiling, etc. Some livestock are more sensitive to certain forages than others; e.g., brood mares and endophyte-infected tall fescue, alpacas and perennial ryegrass. If you are not sure what to plant, consult your local forage expert (NRCS, Extension, etc.).
Because of the rainy weather and flooding in some areas, some crop fields may be available to grow some fall annuals for grazing or harvest once they dry out and in some cases, insurance agents have released them. If infrastructure is present, especially external fence and water, then grazing is the way to go; save your hay or stockpile your pasture.
You really can’t beat the combination of oats, a brassica such as turnips or radish, and cereal rye. The oats and turnips come on early and provide excellent quality forage for grazing and can be grazed easily up into December or sometimes later. The cereal rye takes off in the spring and can provide more grazing opportunities or forage harvest and then go back to row crops. If grazed, it is best to be grazed under either dry or frozen soil conditions if going back to cropland in the spring.
If your intent is to cut it for hay, you may want to leave the turnips or radish out of the mix. They contain a lot of water and can really slow down the drying process. Triticale can be substituted for the cereal rye. It does not grow quite as fast as cereal rye in the spring and might be easier to manage especially in a wet spring.
Mid to late August is also a good time to start thinking about and start to defer grazing on tall fescue dominant fields that will be utilized for stockpiling. A good mix of tall fescue and clover, especially when the clover is at least 30% of the stand, can make good forage to stockpile. If the stand is lacking sufficient clover, then 40 to 60 units of nitrogen can be added to boost yield and crude protein. The sooner we can stop grazing pastures and graze annuals or regrowth on hay fields, the more rest we can provide those pastures and the more potential grazing we can have later on.
It is the time of year to expect some really hot days. Just like people, well, at least me, livestock prefer cool water and some shade on these really hot days. Water is preferred between 37 and 65 degrees. Portable tanks on above ground lines or long hoses can exceed those temperatures quite easily and in fact be warm enough for hot tea instead of a cool summer drink.
Shade for most of the year is just a luxury item for livestock and even somewhat counterproductive nutrient wise as manure is often deposited where less beneficial. When temperatures and humidity are above 85, or like combination heat index, shade is very beneficial and needed. Animals need to be able to cool off, especially when we don’t have cooler nights. Livestock also prefer temperatures in the range of 41 to 77 degrees. If you have a field with no shade but need to utilize it and have a few extra minutes, you could let them graze the no shade areas from late evening until late morning and then move them let them ruminate and rest in an area with shade or consider adding some shade to needed areas.
When temperatures and humidity are over 85, shade is beneficial. That is equivalent to a heat index of about 100 degrees.
Keep on grazing!