Farm Talk

May 1, 2013

Improving drought damaged forage

by Kenny Ragland

Parsons, Kansas — Ranchers commonly ask what they can plant in the middle of a drought to give them plenty of forage.

This was the first question for University of Missouri Plant Sciences Extension Specialist Robert Kallenbach on March 6 in St. Joseph.

Meeting with Andrew, Buchanan, Clay and Platte County cattlemen, Professor Kallenbach discussed ideas for farmers to improve their cattle forage during his slide presentation.

“When I find out how to grow all the forage you want in a drought, you will see me at the patent office,” said Kallenbach. “I will be a rich man.”

Spring is not the time to begin a program, but there is a lot that can be done anytime to improve forage growth.

“Interseeding legumes is best done when the perennial forage has a poor stand,” Kallenbach said. “The legume has a much better chance of getting started.”

This is better done in the fall, but it can be performed in the spring too.

“I recommend ranchers to pick one field each year,” Kallenbach said. “You fix the fertility, lime, seeding and everything.”

Beginning with a soil test is a primary starting point.

“It will tell you what to apply,” Kallenbach said,” from the amount of lime to how much nitrogen, phosphate and the most important fertility requirement, potassium.”

Soil tests for grassland commonly recommend a very high rate of potassium, applied as the common fertilizer potash. This is something that can be done in the spring, along with the nitrogen topdress.

“Add nitrogen to your fertility application in March at green-up,” Kallenbach said. “On average, 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre yields 2,500-3,000 pounds of forage per acre.”

Most of the forage growth occurs from April through June.

“Nitrogen stimulates tillering,” Kallenbach said. “About 90 percent of the growth response occurs in the first six weeks following application.”

Conventional till re-seeding provides the highest level of success.

“Conventional has an 87 percent success rate,” Kallenbach said. “No-till has a 67 percent chance of success.”

Because many growers don’t like to tear up their hay and pasture fields, they are looking at no-till methods for their grasslands, especially to interseed an established perennial stand with clover.

“It is my preferred method,” Kallenbach said, “but be sure you don’t set the depth too deep.”

Kallenbach prefers to set the no-till planter to the shallowest setting.

“A depth of ¼ inch is best for clover,” he said. “It will give you a better stand.”

Interseeded alfalfa as a legume also has good selling points.

“Alfalfa has a very deep root,” Kallenbach said. “Fields that were still green in the drought were getting that color from the alfalfa.”

Savannah Veterinarian Wayne Miller keeps 100 head of cows in his operation.

“The alfalfa looked good,” he said. “I am also working with distiller grains mixed with hay for forage.”

The extension specialist encouraged growers to use urea for topdressing and to not spend the extra money for the fancy nitrogen loss preventative coatings for spring applications.

“Urea works just fine by itself in the spring,” Kallenbach said. “In the fall it pays to use the coatings such as Nutrasphere or Super-U to reduce nitrogen losses.”

Ranchers having problems with high levels of endophyte infected fescue stands, leading to fescue foot problems with cattle, can use round-up to burn down the stand before re-seeding.

“A good burn-down will give the new fescue the chance to come up well,” Kallenbach said. “Kentucky 31 is easier to get up than the newer fescue varieties.”

The burn-down reseeding program, just like the overgrazing approach is best done in the fall.

“Either way can work well,” Kallenbach said. “When it’s dry, ranchers can graze a poor stand down to the ground, allowing a no-till replanting of fescue and legumes to take off.”

Smithville rancher Pat Heath is looking at interseeding some of his pastures.

“I’m down to 80 cows because of the drought,” he said. “I used to have enough forage to keep 100 going.”

Kallenbach finished by encouraging growers to keep good fertility practices up, once they have re-done a field.

“This will pay dividends down the road,” he said. “Good fertility programs will provide more and better forage for the money over buying hay every time.”

Justin Gregory from Stewartsville keeps 400 feeder calves.

“This had a lot of good ideas for forage for my operation,” he said. “We will use all of our available grass.”

For more information, go online to plantsci.missouri .edu/faculty/kallenbach.    cfm. £