During the cold, blistery winter, forage is far from producers’ minds. However, producers should still be thinking about the upcoming growing season. Management never ends and producers should work to have a plan in place before spring rolls in.
Collect Soil Samples
While winter is still here and much of the ground is frozen, there isn’t much growers can do yet. Even so, producers should be making plans to collect soil samples as soon as possible. If you have introduced pastures or grazed cropland, you should prepare for spring fertilizer needs.
Proper use of fertilizer requires knowing what product to use and how much of it. This is where soil sampling comes in. Taking soil samples correctly is an important part of this process. According to Progressive Forage, the important steps to follow when collecting samples are:
- Take 15 to 20 6-inch cores per sample.
- Discard outlier cores or cores that are different from the majority of the pasture.
- If there are two different soil types or textures within the same pasture, and the delineation is easily distinguishable, take two separate samples for the pasture.
- If pastures or fields are large – more than about 40 acres – collecting multiple samples is recommended.
When you submit forms, be sure to keep a copy of each for your own records. Submitting samples at this time of year allows plenty of time for analyses to be returned to you. This gives you sufficient time to plan for the season and prioritize actual application.
In an effort to be cost-efficient, fertilizers are often priced more advantageously in the winter because of low demand. Therefore, staying ahead of the curve can benefit in planning and cost efficiency.
Winter application can also be beneficial when it comes to phosphorus and potassium. Unlike nitrogen, they aren’t subject to environmental losses so it can be extremely beneficial to apply these in the winter. It is especially favorable to your wallet if a high quantity of these nutrients needs to be applied.
Growers should prioritize the most productive soils and pastures. Many producers are aware of their most productive fields, but don’t know the reason behind it. It is important to determine the reason for productivity and then maximize it. This could be through fertilizer choices, herbicide applications or cross-fencing.
Additionally, you can locate your property on the Web Soil Survey. This tool allows you to determine soil types and vegetative productivity potentials for range, irrigated crops and non-irrigated crops. The website provides color-coded visualizations to find the most productive areas of your property.
Planning for Grazing
Grazing management requires planning for the future and acting in the present. Planning is integral to success. Set goals for the operation, evaluate current assets, and then sketch out a plan to reach your goals.
John Jennings, University of Arkansas professor, said you need at least 30 to 60 days to prepare pastures for grazing season. This includes identifying weeds and determining how to control them. Jennings developed the 300 Days of Grazing Program. The five steps to implementing this program are:
- Conduct a forage inventory to determine base forages and periods of limited forage or gaps in forage availability.
- Identify management practices to increase seasonal grazing, such as rotational grazing, stockpiling, overseeding and fertilization strategies.
- Include complementary forages to address gaps in forage availability.
- Plan forage programs for the entire year.
- Monitor and adjust forage production, supplementation and stocking rates as needed.
This program helped producers across the U.S. extend their grazing season, reduce reliance on hay and reduce input costs.
Resources and Flexibility
Understanding resources is a key component in developing a plan. For example, Mark and Annette Thomas of TLC Grassfed Beef in Oklahoma, pasture finish calves on their 100 percent forage-based operation. They operate nearly 500 acres of drylands. Their plans require a lot of flexibility since they don’t feed any grain and must rely heavily on the unpredictable Oklahoma rainfall.
Chase Groves, Rocking CK Farms owner, echoes the need for flexibility. Additionally, he recommends making temporary improvements until you’re sure they’re a good fit for your program.
Furthermore, you can utilize high-quality forages, like alfalfa, at key times if necessary. This is helpful during times like weaning and finishing if forages aren’t providing adequate nutrition.
“We don’t let our cattle go backward; it’s expensive to lose body condition on cows, and if our calves don’t consistently gain, it affects their ability to finish,” Mark Thomas said.
Knowing the condition of your pastures can help you develop a plan to improve or capitalize on the forage available to help you reach grazing goals.
Although frost seeding is no substitute for poor fertility of pastures, it does serve as an option for thickening pastures. Comparatively, using some type of tillage to renovate pastures has a higher rate of success. However, frost seeding is a less expensive option and can still be effective when done correctly.
It is crucial to ensure you have maximum seed-to-soil contact.
Often times, a pasture that has been very aggressively grazed into the fall will present a good opportunity for frost seeding. Using a chain drag or running over the field lightly with a disk can open up the stand as well.
Seeds can move down into the soil surface as temperatures move above freezing during the day, but drop below freezing at night. Additionally, livestock walking over the surface can also be effective in maintaining seed to soil contact.
Early morning frost seeding, before the soil surface begins to thaw, is recommended. If the soil surface is “slimy”, wait to seed until you get another morning when the soil has frozen again.
If you plan to frost seed grass, acknowledge you will need to make a separate pass with your seeder because grasses won’t spread as far as legumes.
Ag Nook’s related article titled, “2018 Hay Round-Up” explores the 2018 hay market factors in an effort to anticipate the direction of the 2019 hay market.
It is never too early to begin planning for the 2019 growing season. Though winter is still making its presence known, you can begin planning now. Producers should have a plan in place before spring.
Image courtesy of Progressive Forage