Justin McDaniel OSU Extension Educator
It may seem a little nuts, but this is the time to start thinking about winter forage needs. With the excellent rainfall many of us have plenty of grass, and it seems like hay supplies will be adequate. But it never hurts to start planning for the future.
All the hay you are buying and/or have baled this year is what will be utilized this winter to keep your cow herd in healthy condition. Decisions as to its quality and in what order it is to be fed should be made now. Taking forage samples from these new balings, when coupled with ration calculators such as OSU’s Cowculator program, will give the producer an indication of the amount and kind of supplement needed to keep his cattle in prime body condition throughout the winter months. It will also give you the ability to watch trends in supplement prices in the coming months and hopefully lock in a bulk supplement price at the cheapest rate.
Hay should be sampled in lots that reflect the growing situation, such as the specific field, harvest date and species of forage harvested. Within these lots, we need to sample two cores from as many bales as possible, mix the cores and pull one sample to be analyzed per lot. With information such as TDN and protein content, we can then make decisions as to when this hay should be fed within the gestation period of our cows, providing them with the highest quality hay during periods of stress and adjusting supplementation when feeding hay of lesser quality.
This is also a good time to be pulling soil samples on small grains crop fields, stockpile bermudagrass fields, possible legume plantings and fescue pastures with the idea of making sure we have the needed fertility amendments applied prior to Labor Day. This will give us the opportunity to take advantage of any of the normal September rains we might get in the fall. By fertilizing early, we can get our forage production in high gear in the early fall, when most of the fall forage production takes place.
At this same time period, we can also make arrangements to purchase the needed seeds while supplies are plentiful and we have time to investigate different sources and plant varieties. If we wait until September to make these decisions, our choices begin to become limited and we may be forced to accept whatever the local retailer has on hand to fulfill our planting needs.
With our fertility applications in place and our seed in hand, we can be ready when weather conditions begin to look right in late August or early September and hopefully get our fall forage planted and fertilized in a timely manner. This will allow those forages the time and warm weather conditions they need to produce enough fall forage to allow us to graze our animals on green, high-quality forage well into December.
If we wait and get these forages planted or fertilized late, the cooler fall weather conditions will limit the amount of fall growth we can expect and cause us increased cost in hay and supplemental feed.
Once we have our fall forage fertilized and growing well in September, we will need to keep a close eye on it until we get our first frost. Grasshoppers, armyworms and aphids all do well following drought years, like the one we had last year. A producer has to be diligent in September to make sure that the fall forage being grown is protected from insects so the cattle will benefit from this resource in early winter.
Remember, prior planning leads to savings on both ends of the forage production cycle. Purchased inputs can be cheaper if we have the opportunity to shop around. And growing our own winter forage will be cheaper than trying to purchase hay and feeds in winter, when prices will likely be at their top.