By Keith Diedrick
As the leaves start turning and the nights get colder, our usual crops of orchardgrass, ryegrass and alfalfa begin to winterize.
Hopefully, you’re not considering any sort of harvest this time of year; the perennial plants need to grow and photosynthesize to store carbohydrates in their roots. This reserve is going to be the source of energy in the spring when we’re ready to embark on a new season of grazing.
So, what are some other ways to find some great grazing material that’s easy on the wallet?
Small grains. Small grains may be grazed successfully in the fall and into the spring. Folks have had luck with oats, barley, triticale, wheat and cereal rye, which seems to be the most cold-hardy of the bunch.
A few of these may be seeded in early October yet for some decent spring grazing material.
As with most plants in the forage and pasture world, small grain quality is linked to maturity. In the fall, one might expect 18 percent to 22 percent crude protein. Once the plants start to elongate and produce seed, crude protein decreases.
As with every practice, there are possible downsides. Lactating dairy cows might need some supplemental energy, so be sure to take your operation and goals into consideration before making final decisions.
Magnesium deficiencies are also a possibility (which could lead to grass tetany), so provide high-magnesium mineral blocks.
The University of Kentucky (www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/agr/agr160/agr160.pdf) and Penn State (www.forages.psu.edu/topics/pastures/plants/extended/small_grains.html) have great factsheets on grazing small grains.
Standing corn. Standing corn is another possible food and shelter source for our grazing livestock, including stockers, swine, goats, sheep, and dairy heifers and cows for breeding.
Again, lactating animals may need supplemental feed as the crude protein content of standing (especially mature) corn is not very high. Standing corn is usually strip grazed to prevent wasting of forage.
Watch your animals and field for wasted forage so you will know how to adjust the stocking rate and area.
Nitrates can be an issue as well, especially in drought-stressed corn. Shattercane and johnsongrass may present a prussic acid threat, so wait a few weeks after a solid killing frost before grazing.
Last, consider the economic cost of grazing corn versus harvesting it for grain. Grazing may be a great return on your field if the droughts and floods were particularly hard on the grain potential in your area.
Ohio State has a great resource on this topic, as well, at http://ohioline.osu.edu/anr-fact/0011.html) There is a chart included on nitrate measurements and livestock safety.
For more information, contact your local Extension educator.
(Keith Diedrick is an OSU Extension agriculture and natural resources educator in Wayne County.)