Cover crops can also offer your livestock another grazing option

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By Breanna Pye

The lack of quantity of hay and diminished quality is on the minds of those who depend on it going into the fall and winter months. Even with last year being a better year than this year to get hay put up, our long winter that would not warm up left many scrambling to find hay to finish up the year with.

That is never a good position to be in, but it’s an easy one to be in if preparation hasn’t occurred, especially if there is an unexpected weather situation.

Grazing cover crops

A solution to this problem could be to graze cover crops. Not only do cover crops improve soil quality and protect against leaching and nutrient runoff, but also they can make a great second crop for those who typically sit on open ground after a corn or soybean harvest.

However, grazing cover crops can be a great option as well. It allows for a great forage source for livestock to graze when other types of forage aren’t available.

Now is the perfect time to plant cover crops. Many wonder if you can graze, and the answer in most cases is yes.

Rye, wheat, barley, oats and triticale are small grains that are good candidates to be used as forage as well. Crimson, berseem and arrowleaf are annual clovers that do well along with red clover and members of the brassica family such as turnip, rape, kale, swede and fodder radish.

Rye, wheat, barley, red clover and crimson clover can be expected to overwinter well in Ohio.

These can all be grazed in early spring, alleviating some of the burden of feeding hay late in the early spring; especially in supply is low helping to reduce the cost of supplementation.

Some things to consider if you plan to graze cover crops is to be sure to allow grazing on dry or frozen soils. Allowing livestock to graze in wet conditions may cause soil compaction, which could lead to erosion.

Allow the crop to grow to 8 inches and do not let animals graze below 4 inches. You want the plant to allow itself to keep growing, which is the primary purpose of this type of grazing.

Cover crop grazing lends itself very nicely to a rotational grazing situation.

Move animals

Allow animals to be moved every couple of days to optimize the practice. As with any other type of forage in the spring, it is best to be cautious when turning livestock out to new pasture in the spring.

Care must be exercised to avoid grass tetany and bloat. Offer a supplement to the group so they aren’t turned out hungry and don’t allow them to graze for an extended period of time.

Slowly turn them out allowing them more time each time in order to become acclimated. If you observe signs of grass tetany or bloat, consult your veterinarian.

Overall, adding cover crops can be a great way to improve and protect soil health as well as utilize forage that otherwise wouldn’t be available, limiting your dependency on stored hay, as well as supplementation, throughout late winter and early spring.

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