Warm-season native grasses help feed livestock during drought

Warm-season native grasses help feed livestock during drought

Drought has affected cool-season grasses, resulting in diminished forage for cattle and other livestock, especially in Missouri.

“Warm-season native grasses are the ideal summer forage while cool-season grass production declines due to heat, especially in drought conditions,” said Rusty Lee, an agronomist at the University of Missouri.

He tells me that now is a teachable moment. While they take one year to establish, warm-season grasses can be lightly grazed in the second year and fully grazed in the third year and beyond.

“When I ask them, producers say they want high forage yields, which warm-season grasses provide in large quantities,” Lee said. “They want to grow forage without the risk of toxins, such as fescue poisoning in cattle. They want long-term life, without having to replant every three to five years. They want animal performance, and they want a cost-effective system. Warm-season grasses define every These boxes.

Lee said WSG doesn’t need to be a wholesale replacement for cool-season grasses in pastures, but producers should try it to get the many benefits.

Those who have tried it have liked it and have increased WSG acres on their farms, Lee said.

Plan ahead

“WSGs have a bad reputation because they take one to two years to set up,” Lee said. “Set aside one year and, depending on your pasture, do dormant winter seeding or spring seeding.

“Embrace the use of herbicides to help control an old cool-season grass stand. Warm-season grasses are very hardy and resilient, but the roots grow first and weeds tend to shade them out. Seedlings are weak at first. The goal is to leave the pasture alone for the first year after planting and not Herd.”

To prepare, graze cool-season grasses this fall, he said. Before it goes dormant, spray with glyphosate herbicide – generally in October. Seeds can be dug in the spring. Expect a four-week window for them to appear. Before weeds emerge, they must be controlled with additional glyphosate.

“I recommend planting a mix of Indian grass, big blue and a little blue grass — heavier on the big blue,” Lee advised. “These three species have the ability to tolerate additional herbicides. imazapicthat when the tank is mixed with a spring glyphosate application it gives some control of the remaining weeds.

Broadcast seeds in winter dormancy or no-till. When planting WSG in the spring, remember to make a second application of glyphosate after the cool-season grasses green up, then dig up the WSG in late April to early May.

“Keep in mind that WSG seed is expensive — up to $300 an acre,” Lee said. “And test the soil now just in time for fall.”

Lee stressed that there is an establishment cost to not grazing during the first year, but production in subsequent years will more than offset it.

Availability of WSG seeds varies as demand consumes supply. “So place your seed order now.”

Lee recommends soil testing to determine needed fertility adjustments. If lime additions are necessary, an application this fall will match well with seeding the following spring. Your seeds and effort are valuable, so take the time to understand drill settings for planting depths and calibrate your seeding rate to ensure a successful stand.

Weed control, seeding depth and seeding rate are the three most common factors that determine success or failure, he said.

The use of established WSGs depends on the species. They will be at their peak in late May to early September, then go dormant after the winter freeze.

Cost sharing

There are several cost-sharing programs available through the Missouri Department of Conservation, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Every agency’s programs are different, and some can fit producers’ needs better than others,” said Rachel Hopkins, business specialist at MU Extension Ag. “Contact your local NRCS/SWCD office to learn more about local forage cost-sharing programs. For programs offered by MDC, contact your local private land conservation officer. Before selecting a specific program, producers should evaluate offerings to find the program that best suits their needs better.

Each program has pros and cons, Hopkins said. “Farmers can think of this as an opportunity to build flexibility into their forage program. Native warm-season forages grow well during peak summer heat. Many people will renovate pastures at great cost. Cost-share programs incentivize farmers to try something new in their operations.”

Hopkins said there are many ways people can get creative to use more of what they have.

“Producers can start looking for value where no one sees it,” she said. “This could be grazing ditches, or ‘weeds’ like broom, which are great forage. They don’t die, they’re not difficult to graze, but they have to be managed.”

The WSGs, once established, will produce many tons for livestock and small ruminants, Lee said.

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