Dry summer rushing silage harvest

Plan to extend grazing or increase stored forage reserves

Plan to extend grazing or increase stored forage reserves

August 29, 2006|by JEFF SEMLER

As I write this article, I feel like Yogi Berra, "It's dj vu all over again."

Another dry summer has been wreaking havoc on pastures and hay fields as well as many other crops.

Because of the dry weather, corn silage harvest is ahead of schedule.

So, we will have the opportunity to stretch our forages because we can get on the ground earlier.

Where do we start?

First and foremost, cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas and llamas are classed as ruminants and are designed to eat forage, plant fiber. They have a unique digestive system that is made to digest and utilize fibrous plant materials.

Man, in his infinite wisdom has come to believe through his own arrogance that these animals cannot survive without grain. That is because we have bought into the lie of maximum production instead of optimum production.


Grain can and should be fed in many situations but forage should still make up nearly 60 percent or more of these animals' dry matter intake. When we get down to 50 percent or less we are flirting with disaster.

In order to extend your grazing or increase your stored forage reserves, we will look at seeding winter annuals.

First, every winter annual has a place but you must choose the one that works for your particular system.

If you want to extend an alfalfa field one more year, consider seeding annual ryegrass after your late August or September harvest. You can then harvest your mix in the spring two or three times before switching to an alfalfa cutting schedule for the summer.

Next, let's look at following our summer annuals such as corn or sorghums.

Cereal grains such as rye, wheat, barley, tritical or spring oats can be used as well as annual ryegrass. Your choice will depend on your management system.

For the winter cereals, seed now to late October (wheat should be seeded after Sept. 15) at rates of 2 to 3 bushels per acre. Higher rate is better. Remember the purpose is forage, not grain.

Rye is different. It can be seeded up to January, germinate in March and still make a harvestable crop.

Well-fertilized late summer seedings and a moist fall can make 12 to 15 inches of vegetative growth by Thanksgiving.

You can mechanically harvest in November, or graze down to three inches.

Grazing forage quality is excellent into January, then declines slowly through late winter. Fall growth can use 50 to 75 pounds N (or manure equivalent). Apply N (or manure) again in late March to early April for spring growth according to your nutrient management plan.

Spring growth can be grazed or chopped at boot stage; rye - May 1; tritical - May 10; barley - May 15 (more or less).

Spring Oats should be seeded now to late September at a rate of 2.5 to 3 bushels per acre. Seedings that emerge by Sept. 10 to 15 will start to come into head by Nov. 15 to 20.

This can be chopped to fill silo, made into round bale haylage or grazed. If grazing is the option, begin at six inches of growth and flash graze paddock by paddock.

Oats will stop growing when ground begins to freeze. Quality will hold until after several very hard freezes (20 degrees F or less), then decline slowly. Oats will die over the winter; no spring regrowth.

You can seed oats with winter peas for more protein. Chop for silage or roll for balage in mid to late November. You can also seed oats with rye. Two bushels of each.

This gives a good fall harvest and a spring harvest.

Lastly, Oats can be seeded with annual ryegrass, too - 2 to 3 bushels Oats and 25 to 30 pounds Ryegrass per acre. Chop or graze by Thanksgiving and continue ryegrass harvest in the spring.

Annual ryegrass, the relative newcomer, has the ability to produce a vigorous seedling that lends it to a variety of seeding methods into a number of forage cropping systems. A seeding rate of 30 pounds per acre has provided satisfactory results in numerous on-farm and research farm situations.

It should be noted that annual ryegrass varieties will differ in seed size and density. This fact will require producers to adjust seeding rates and drill calibrations slightly from variety to variety.

There is one caution with annual ryegrass and that is, it can become a weed in grain fields that are harvested for grain.

Be careful where you plant and how mature you allow your stands to get. Seed has no respect for field boundaries.

In keeping with forage management, if you can pasture any of these seedings, you will save diesel fuel - which means money.

These are all high quality forages that can contribute significantly to your forage resources.

Yes, building temporary fence is not as easy as sitting on a tractor seat but, there are no fumes and you can probably use the walk anyway.

In closing, you can receive a bulletin called FALL SEEDED WINTER ANNUALS FOR FORAGE from the Extension office that goes into greater detail.

And remember - fall forage growth still depends upon rainfall! But if good moisture is present or promised, go for it!

And do not forget to apply N to any grass pastures or grass hay fields that can be pastured October-December.

Lastly, while beef producers often use stockpile forage for winter grazing, dairy heifers do well on stockpiled fescue over the winter, too!

Remember, as farmers, you are the eternal optimist and there are two things to remember: First, seed will never grow in the bag; and second, it will rain again and when it does, we will need it.

Recent rain welcome but not near enough

The weekend's rains were good, but are of little benefit to area farmers hit by this summer's long dry spell, Extension Educator Jeff Semler said Monday.

"The rain varied across the county from seven-tenths of an inch, to an inch and-a-half.

"It's a feel-good rain. Most of that didn't go down more than the top inch and-a-half" in bare ground, Semler said.

"You go out there with a pen knife and dig down. It's still as dry as it was before it rained," he said.

"If you were to plant something in the surface moisture, it'll grow" but more rain is needed to make up the deficiency in moisture overall, he said.

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