Alternative forage options during and after drought

  • Published: Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Widespread drought conditions during the 2018 growing season in most of Missouri resulted in hay and forage shortages, says University of Missouri Extension agronomist Dhruba Dhakal.

Dhakal offers some alternative/emergency forage options to feed beef cattle during fall, winter and spring.

Stockpiling tall fescue

If fescue stands are strong, stockpiling tall fescue is one of the cheapest and easiest options for fall and winter grazing, Dhakal says.

“If plants are still alive with more than 75 percent fescue left, fertilize with 40-50 pounds of nitrogen per acre in September and close the gates,” he says. Let grass grow until November before grazing. An application of urea with nitrogen stabilizer (Agrotain, for example) with rainfall received within 14 days helps to incorporate it and reduce volatilization.

“Ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate are less prone to volatilization loss compared to urea,” Dhakal says. “Rotational grazing using paddocks is a better option to increase carrying capacity of land as well as maintaining pasture health.”

Research shows rotational grazing nearly doubles the utilization. An early ice storm or foot traffic on these fields could deteriorate the grass prematurely, he says.

Using drought-stressed corn and soybean

Silage from drought-stressed corn can be used to feed cattle during fall and winter. Typically, nitrate levels in corn drop 40-50 percent during the ensiling process if the silage ferments well. Dhakal recommends nitrate testing if feeding corn green chop or silage to the cattle.

Drought-damaged soybean can be grazed when plants are 12-18 inches tall, he says. Check herbicide labels before grazing or feeding cattle. Some herbicides have a longer residual period. Soybean can be hayed at early R3 and made into silage at R4-R5 stages. Cattle can be grazed on corn and soybean stubble in the fall. Ammoniating corn or sorghum stover for feeding cattle might be another fall option, Dhakal says.

Planting winter annual small grains

Dhakal says pastures with poor fescue stands or with no fall growth potential may be planted with winter annuals if there is good soil moisture. Planting winter annuals into a strong fescue stand is counterproductive and may not be cost-effective, he says.

Some winter annuals such as cereal rye, triticale, winter wheat and winter barley are suited for grazing during fall and winter in Missouri. Cattle producers with row crops can plant these winter annuals as a cover crop after harvesting corn and soybean. These crops offer the double benefit of covering the land and providing forage for cattle during fall, winter and spring, Dhakal says.

Cereal rye is easier and quicker to establish than other small grains. It is the most winter-hardy small grain and provides forage for grazing even during late winter. It provides excellent fall tonnage and has good regrowth potential after grazing.

Increase seeding rates up to 50 percent and plan to graze in fall and harvest again in spring. Dhakal suggests tight spring grazing for best vegetative growth and forage quality. Triticale is a cross between cereal rye and wheat—a good compromise for tonnage, quality and balance between fall and spring grazing.

Wheat grows little in the fall, so it provides the most forage in the spring. It has higher-quality forage compared to rye and triticale and may be one of the best options for early spring hay or haylage, Dhakal says. Barley also is a good option for fall planting for early growth, good quality and tonnage prior to winter. However, winter-hardiness can be an issue for barley, he says.

Planting brassicas and winter legumes

Planting brassicas such as turnip, radish, kale and canola at 3 to 8 pounds per acre, is another option for feeding cattle during fall. Turnip may provide up to 3 tons of forage per acre from October to December. “Turnip is an easy and quick establishment but has little regrowth potential. Bloat, sulfur and nitrate toxicity, and milk flavoring might occur at times,” Dhakal says.

He suggests feeding turnips with a mix of either cereal grain forage or annual ryegrass or hay. It may have up to 24 percent crude protein and 75 percent total digestible nutrient if it is grazed or harvested at early bloom stage, Dhakal says.

Some winter annual legumes such as Austrian winter pea and hairy vetch can be planted with small grains in fall. These legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen and have higher crude protein and total digestible nutrient than non-legume forage. They also improve the overall nutritive value of forage, Dhakal says.

Planting spring oats

Dhakal also suggests planting spring oats from late winter to early spring in Missouri. They can be used as hay and silage crop to feed cattle. Their forage quality is higher when harvested from boot to early heading stage for making hay and from milking to dough stage for making silage.

Writer: Linda Geist

Media Contact

Dhruba Dhakal
660-288-3239

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