Fall forage management tips

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It’s hard to believe it’s nearly the end of November! The leaves are falling, grain harvest is nearing completion and as we head into the winter months it’s time to give some consideration to your pastures.

Pastures provide an excellent source of feed for livestock, but the forage in these pastures must be managed for optimum quality and yield. Fall is when forages are storing nutrients in preparation for winter. Looking for simple, easy to compete and relatively inexpensive ways to improve your forage quality? Consider the following management tips.

Soil fertility

Fertilizer is an expense, but necessary component of good forage production. One of the best ways to save money and get the maximum benefit from fertilizer is to take soil samples.

Random samples throughout a field should be collected, placed in a clean bucket, and thoroughly mixed to provide a composite sample for analysis. If there are special features about a field (different soil type, slope, obvious fertility differences), you may want to separate these and make them a different sample area.

After analyzing your soil sample, the lab will return to you a sheet that describes the present nutrient level of the soil. The testing lab will also provide recommendations for the application of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) to meet desired levels.

Fall is a good time for applying lime to a field. Lime is applied to adjust soil pH to a desired level for optimum plant growth. Depending upon the plant, a pH of 6.0 – 6.5 is generally recommended. Soil types in this part of Ohio are generally low on the pH scale and often require the application of lime.

Increasing soil pH does not happen quickly, but often takes six to twelve months, especially because the lime is applied to the surface of the land. It’s important to maintain soil pH at the correct level because plants are more able to utilize nutrients if the pH is at the proper level.

If you are trying to save money and evaluating whether to apply lime (assuming it’s recommended in the soil test report) or fertilizer, it’s often best to go with the lime. Generally speaking, correcting and maintaining soil pH should be first on the list, followed by recommended amounts and rates of fertilizer.

Frost seeding

If you plan to frost seed pastures next year, now is a good time to plan for which fields will be seeded and what you plan to frost seed into those fields. Frost seeding is typically done between mid-February and mid-March. Look for those days where it is suitable to drive across the field without causing too much harm to the soil and existing forage.

During this time there is enough fluctuation in temperature that causes the ground to go through freeze – thaw cycles. This freezing and thawing allows the broadcasted seed to work into the soil. Those fields you intend to frost seed should be clipped close so as to open up more soil surface area.

Frost seeding into tall grasses is not recommended. If the grass is too tall the seeds will have a difficult time reaching the soil. Also, avoid using seeds that are light or fluffy, as they have a difficult time working down through existing vegetation. Red Clover is often used in frost seeding situations.

Summary

Pastures play an important role in providing livestock a relatively cheap feed. It’s important to manage the nutritional needs of these forages. Doing so will produce forage that is high yielding and provides superior nutritive value to your livestock.

An important step in this is to soil test every three years, maintain the appropriate soil pH, and apply recommended amounts of fertilizer. Contact your agronomist or local Ohio State University Extension office for more details.

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