FAQs: Forages, Cover Crops and More

Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County 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: https://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: https://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: https://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.