Extension Agent: Prepare for winter grazing
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The use of cool season annual grasses as a source of forage during the winter months has long been used with a great deal of success in our part of the world. Planting ryegrass in October to begin grazing about the time your warm season grasses quit can be a great way to extend your grazing capacity without having to supplement with purchased roughage and protein sources.
Annual ryegrass, a high-yielding, nutritious grass, is the most widely grown cool-season annual forage in the southern and southeastern USA, according to Texas Cooperative Extension Service's article "Annual Winter Pastures for East Texas." It is adapted to most soils and tolerant of wet, poorly drained soils.
Ryegrass is very responsive to nitrogen fertilization with the peak growth occurring during the spring. Ryegrass produces forage that is high in nutritive value, and thus, provides excellent animal performance, according to the article by J. Vendramini, G.W. Evers and L. Redmon of the service's soil and crop sciences department. It also tolerates close grazing, although if repeatedly grazed too closely, growing animal performance will be reduced.
When overseeded on warm-season grasses, producers must be prepared to utilize the rapid spring growth, otherwise it will significantly delay the subsequent warm-season grass growth.
Another source of winter forages is annual legumes. Species, such as clover and medics, have also seen steady use in the Gulf Coast region and can be found in yards and pastures throughout the area, whether we planted them or not.
Selected varieties of these native plants have proven to be highly valuable as a feed stuff during cool months as well as fixing nitrogen in the soil.
This nitrogen fixation should be of keen interest due to the high cost of fertilizer in recent times. Legumes can provide 75-100 pounds of nitrogen per acre back to the soil annually, according to the article. This occurs in two ways. First, properly inoculated seed will produce nitrogen from the nodules as a result of the bacterium used to inoculate seed.
Second, the natural incorporation of unused forages back into the soil provides additional nitrogen that can be used by warm season grasses later in the year. The real success of legumes has been in combination with improved warm seasoned grasses such as hybrid Bermuda grasses.
These warm season grasses play out about the time the legumes get going in the fall and get started toward the tail end of the legumes annual production in the spring of the year. This is a great year-round grazing system and because some legumes re-seed exceptionally well, the need for annual planting can be eliminated. With all of the advantages that annual legumes bring to the table, there are a few management issues that must be addressed when utilizing this system.
Livestock have a greater tendency to bloat when grazing legumes and precautionary and preventative management measures should be taken to avoid these problems.
Another issue is management of spring weeds. It is important that control of broadleaf weeds in the spring be postponed until the legumes have seeded out. Otherwise, the reseeding advantages are nullified. After all, a weed is nothing more than a plant that is growing where it is not wanted.
Of course, our ability to take full advantage of these cool season grazing options is heavily dependent upon the availability of adequate soil moisture. This most limiting factor has been unreliable and certainly unpredictable for the few years. Nonetheless, as those involved in agriculture know well, if you fail to sow the seed it is useless to anticipate the harvest.
Peter J. McGuill is the Victoria County extension agent - ag and natural resources. Contact him at 361-575-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.