Solar Grazing 101

Currently, Ohio is slated to have approximately 85,000 acres of land put into photovoltaic (solar) energy production over the next decade. As our society continues to investigate alternative energy solutions, the face of agriculture will too. Although some see this opportunity as a loss of land, sheep producers have saw the silver lining as it relates to increased animal and forage production. For those that are interested in pursuing opportunities related to solar grazing and power generation, please reach out to your team at The Ohio State University as we are currently working in this field of work.

Broomsedge is Talking: Are you Listening?

Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower managing editor
(Previously published in Hay & Forage Grower: June 14, 2022)

(Image Source: Hay and Forage Grower)

Among humans, most communication is accomplished by speaking or writing. However, there’s a whole world of science that studies what is called nonverbal communication. This is communication we convey simply by making certain body movements — a raised eyebrow, a slouched posture, a hand gesture, or a purposeful facial expression.

Unlike humans, plants have no choice but to speak to us using nonverbal communication. They wilt, turn various colors, contort with abnormal growth, or grow by leaps and bounds. As a farmer, analyzing our crops to see what they are telling us is an inherent and necessary activity.

There are some plants that speak to us simply by being present. Broomsedge is one of them.

It’s rare that you find broomsedge, a warm-season perennial grass, in Continue reading

The Great Pasture-clipping Debate

Amber Friedrichsen, Hay and Forage Grower 2021 editorial intern
(Previously published in Hay & Forage Grower: June 15, 2021)

As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. But is the grass always mowed on the other side? Deciding whether or not to mow or clip pastures can leave farmers stuck on the fence.

Possible reasons for mowing are site-specific. Producers sometimes wish to eliminate seedheads, promote even grazing, and provide weed control. However, the costs of mowing can outweigh these benefits, wasting farmers’ time and money.

Vegetation restoration
As forages mature, their palatability and nutrient availability decline. Mowing pastures is one way to Continue reading

Forage Harvest Management to Speed Drying and Store High Quality Forage

Dr. Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist, The Ohio State University
Jason Hartschuh, OSU Extension ANR Educator, Crawford County
Allen Gahler, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Sandusky County
(Previously published in the C.O.R.N. Newsletter 2022-14)

First cutting should be taken very soon to achieve high quality forage, as seen by some of the estimated NDF levels in standing alfalfa crops around the state. Keep in mind that for quality hay, alfalfa should be stored near 40% NDF and grass hay crops should have less than 55% NDF, which happens in the boot stage, or before the first flowering heads begin to emerge. Keep in mind also that the cutting, drying, and storing process results in raising NDF levels at least 3 NDF units above what it was in the standing crop at the time of cutting, and that assumes quick drying and ideal harvesting procedures.

So, it is time to be thinking about that first cutting and looking for weather windows of opportunity, especially along I-70 and south. Cutting forage for haylage or dry hay is certainly a gamble but waiting for the perfect stretch of weather can end up costing us through large reductions in forage quality as the crop matures and the fiber becomes less digestible.

Before cutting though, keep in mind that the soil should be firm enough to support equipment. Compaction damage has long-lasting effects on forage crops. We’ve seen many fields where stand loss in wheel tracks led to lower forage yields, weed invasion, and frustrating attempts to “fill in” the stand later.

Before cutting also keep in mind any Continue reading

Focus on Optimizing the First Cut

Amber Friedrichsen, Hay and Forage Grower 2021 editorial intern
(Previously published in Hay & Forage Grower: May 10, 2022)

First cutting is just around the corner, and this initial harvest is an opportunity to target high forage quality and yield. However, making the wrong move may create consequences that can affect stands for the rest of the season.

Joe Lawrence, dairy forage systems specialist with Cornell University, says greater inclusion rates of high-quality forage in livestock diets can lower feed costs. He encourages farmers to prioritize first cutting over other operations and aim to cut forage at its peak fiber digestibility.

“Success culminates with putting planning into action when the crop tells you it is time to harvest,” Lawrence states. “It is critical to be prepared to harvest at the optimum timing, even when that means parking the corn planter or putting other tasks on the back burner for a few days.”

Start to finish
Before getting in the field, acknowledge Continue reading

Mixing it Up (in the hay field or pasture!)

Haley Zynda, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Wayne County

Pastures are really greening up in this area of Ohio and producers are antsy to turn livestock out to enjoy the lush greenery. Winter annual weeds are still thriving, patiently waiting for their summer counterparts to start germinating. Perhaps you also frost-seeded clover into pastures to improve feed quality and to cut down on nitrogen applications. If that’s the case, weed control this year will be a different story.

Having a mixed stand, whether for hay or pasture, has several benefits. As mentioned earlier, including legumes like white or red clover or alfalfa, can reduce nitrogen needs for the field. If the field is comprised of at least 25% legume, then the nitrogen fixing capability of the legume should be able to handle the nitrogen needs of the rest of the stand. In a world where nitrogen costs $1/lb, legumes are coming to the rescue.

Typically, mixed stands will also have a greater longevity than Continue reading

Measuring Forage Moisture Content Using an Air Fryer

John Jennings, Professor – Forages, Animal Sciences, University of Arkansas
(Previously published online with the Division of Agriculture Research and Extension, University of Arkansas)

Measuring moisture content of forage cut for hay or silage is an essential step to ensure storage stability and product quality. Hay baled with too much moisture can mold or be subject to spontaneous heating. Silage baled or chopped at moisture contents outside a recommended range may not ferment properly, reducing storage life and animal acceptance. A relatively new method of measuring forage moisture content is through use of an air fryer. this household appliance is basically a small convection oven. it can be used at the farm shop or can be operated in the field from a generator to provide accurate forage moisture readings.

Steps for using an air fryer to measure hay moisture
Materials needed: Continue reading

Forages in Modern Small Ruminant Production Systems

Dr. Brady Campbell, Assistant Professor, State Small Ruminant Extension Specialist

Because of their versatility, forages play an important role in modern small ruminant production systems as they can be grazed or harvested and stored as fermented or dry feeds for later use. Forages are unique as they contain structural carbohydrates, in the form of cellulose, that can only be digested by rumen bacteria. When compared with grain-based diets, one disadvantage that is associated with forage-based diets is the number of bacteria that are used to digest forages is much lesser than those used to digest grains (3 billion bacteria/mL of rumen fluid in forage-based diets vs. 8 billion bacteria/mL of rumen fluid in grain-based diets). Rumen bacteria provide ruminants with a large proportion of daily crude protein intake, therefore, diets that are greater in forages may result in less protein available on a per pound basis when compared with grain-based diets and thus require additional supplementation. However, this slight inefficiency should not be “the end all be all” as marginal lands not suitable row cropping or commercial development as well as environmental challenges negatively impacting row cropping systems may greatly benefit from the incorporation of forage production.

From an animal perspective, increased levels of forages in the diet result in Continue reading

Make Hay in May

Christine Gelley, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Noble County
(Previously published in Ohio Farmer: April 19, 2022)

Producers must pay attention to soil fertility, drying time, and storage to maximize both quality and quantity.

With May quickly approaching, hay season will soon be officially underway.

In the years since I began working at Ohio State Extension in Noble County, there have been two years when conditions were right for making dry hay in May — 2020 and 2021. The smell of mowed hay drying in the warm sun and the sight of fresh round bales soon to be peppering fields gives me a boost of much-needed optimism. For people concerned with the quality of hay, this is exciting stuff.

Making hay in May is worthy of celebration because the most influential factor on forage quality is plant maturity. As grasses and legumes emerge from the soil in springtime, energy is allocated to Continue reading

Time to Assess Forage Legume Stands

Dr. Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist, The Ohio State University

With the onset of recent warm temperatures, forage stands are beginning to green up. Wet soil conditions and widely fluctuating temperatures have presented tough conditions for forage stands this winter. This is especially true of taprooted legumes like alfalfa and red clover. Many forage stands suffered significant fall armyworm feeding damage late last summer and into the fall, so those stands should be carefully evaluated this spring as they greenup. It is time to start walking forage stands (especially in southern and central Ohio) to assess their condition so decisions and adjustments for the 2022 growing season can be planned if necessary.

Forage stand evaluation can be performed when 3-4 inches of new shoot growth is present. Select random sites throughout the field and count the plants in a one-foot square area. Check at least 4-5 random sites in each 20- to 25-acre area. Random sampling will give the best unbiased overall evaluation of the field.

Plant heaving is always a concern in Continue reading