Still time to prepare your forage inventory before winter


Harvesting hay this summer has been a major challenge. I am embarrassed to say this, but I started putting up first cutting hay in mid-May and was still making first cutting in late July.

In fact, in the almost 40 years of making hay, I cannot remember mowing first cutting hay after the fourth of July. Now it has gone from wet to dry, which means many of us will not have enough hay and/or the quality may be very poor.

In addition, many pastures have gone dormant with the recent dry weather.

What can we do? First and foremost, resist the temptation to graze our pastures too close to avoid feeding hay early. When our animals overgraze, bad things happen.

Grass that is grazed too close will have to start growing from the roots. Grass not grazed too close can start growing from parts above the ground.

Leaving vegetation

If we leave vegetation above the ground, that will help keep cover over the soil and conserve moisture. When rain starts again, more moisture will soak into the soil, especially if we have heavy rains and the ground has some slope.

We may save more hay if we feed it now and graze fields after we have sufficient growth.

Can we still grow more feed? The answer is definitely yes (if we get more rain).

Small grains are still an option. Oats and cereal rye come to mind. They can be planted together or separate. Oats will grow fast and die off after cold weather sets in and cereal rye will grow slower, maintain quality, provide some forage in late fall, then provide early season growth when weather breaks next March.

Other options

One nice thing about oats is if you have a field that has been grazed close — I have seen successful plantings when simply drilled right into the existing vegetation.

If this is done, consider applying fertilizer after the oats have emerged to prevent the existing vegetation from utilizing too much of the fertilizer.

Another advantage to planting oats or cereal rye is that it should be high quality to offset potentially low quality hay that we may have. We also still have time to stockpile fields for grazing hay or pasture fields later in the fall and early winter. Grasses work best, with fescue being the top choice.

For those new to this practice, stockpiling means to make the last harvest, mowing or grazing of a field, then set it aside to let it grow for grazing at a later time.

This will provide the plants a chance to rest, build root reserves and produce forages for grazing later in the fall or even winter.

The addition of 50 pounds of nitrogen should provide more than 1,000 pounds of additional growth per acre and the protein content of the grass will improve as well.


One issue with applying the most common form of nitrogen, urea, is that if it does not rain a half of an inch within a couple days, it could start to volatilize or evaporate, losing its effectiveness.

The addition of a nitrogen inhibitor when dry weather is forecasted can extend the window for potential rainfall for up to two weeks. Another form of nitrogen to consider is di-ammonium phosphate, or 18-46-0, if your soil tests also call for the addition of phosphorous. The 18 percent nitrogen in this fertilizer is more stable than the urea form of nitrogen. Forage test and protein tubs

Forage testing

Finally, if there is ever a year to forage test, this is the one.

With some high quality hay made in May, a bunch of very poor quality first cutting hay made in July and August, knowing what you have is critical.

For years I have said that the most limiting nutrient in most of our hay is energy and supplementing with a grain like corn can help.

This year protein may also be limiting. I have rarely recommended using protein tubs as they were primarily designed for lower protein western grass hay.

More protein

However, some of our hay will have low enough protein this year that the addition of protein may be needed for our livestock. We still have time to develop a strategy to feed our livestock this fall and winter.

It may begin with feeding hay this summer! If you are in a dry area, it may be best to let your pastures rest and not overgraze.

If hay quality and quantity is low, we can still plant some grain crops like oats and cereal rye. Stockpiling forages, fescue in particular, is an inexpensive way to provide more quality feed.

Then don’t forget to forage test to see if you need additional supplementation for your livestock.

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