Does a 12-month forage system really work?

Aug. 31, 2010 at 3:31 a.m.

By Sam Womble

Many of us have heard the phrase "a 12-month forage system," but how many have a clear understanding of exactly what it involves?

It's common knowledge that the more nutrients (protein and energy) provided from a forage system the more profitable the operation. Studies show that average producers spends about 40 percent of their operating costs on producing or purchasing hay and supplemental feed.

A number of years ago, David Bade, former professor and extension forage specialist, gave some insight to maintaining a 12-month forage system. He discussed that a good forage plan should include base grasses, winter grasses and legumes, be economical and sustainable.

The base grass is usually a perennial such as bermudagrass, bluestem, or kleingrass. These grasses can have a lot of value from a palatability and quality standpoint with proper management (fertility and weed control).

Winter pastures, clovers and legumes provide excellent forage for grazing livestock and can help to reduce or in some instances, eliminate winter feeding costs.

It's important for a producer to evaluate his or her options and make an educated decision on how to manage the system.

Let's take standing hay as an example. Standing hay is not something that just haphazardly happens; it takes planning. A base grass would ideally be cut and baled in September and then fertilized, according to a soil test. The intent would be to have some timely fall rains to foster forage growth prior to a freeze. At the first freeze, the plan would be to force graze the standing forage that you have accumulated, and save your hay inventory. Some producers have had success utilizing electric fences in an effort to better manage grazing efficiency and distribution.

In our area, it's common practice for producers to overseed base grasses with clovers, oats or ryegrass. These approaches have a lot of application and can be used to increase forage quality and quantity.

Realize and know that there is not a universal approach to managing a grazing system. Identify your resources, set some goals and develop a plan that is logical and realistic.

South Texas Farm & Ranch Show

Mark your calendar for the South Texas Farm and Ranch Show Oct. 27-28 at the Victoria Community Center. The flyer will be posted soon at the following website:

One change to note is that the pesticide training will be on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Programs offered will include information on stocking rates, pesticide issues, retirement planning, citrus and wildlife to name a few.

Sam Womble is a Victoria County extension agent - natural resources.



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