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Taking Your Forage Program to the Next Level

GALENA, Mo. — The drought of 2018 in Missouri really began in the fall of 2017 according to Tim Schnakenberg, field specialist in agronomy with University of Missouri Extension.

“It was an exceptionally dry fall and winter for some, then we had a cold April, the hottest May on Missouri record followed by an exceptionally early drought that continued well throughout summer,” said Schnakenberg.

As a result, exasperated livestock producers are throwing up their hands wondering how they will have enough pasture and hay for winter.

“After our experiences in the past year, producers should take some time to think about how they should handle similar future cyclical weather patterns for the long-term. Decisions about forage for next year should begin late summer when the opportunity for establishing cool-season grasses is at its prime,” said Schnakenberg.

Most of the tall fescue stands in southwest Missouri should recover following the drought, assuming the weather will be conducive for it this fall. If producers are seeing fields that are not producing or do not have adequate levels of desirable species, now is an opportune time to make future decisions regarding renovation and take their forage program to the next level.

One option would be to make strides to reduce the overall endophyte level on a livestock operation by converting some fields to a novel endophyte fescue. This “friendly,” non-toxic fescue conversion will require at least two sprays of glyphosate in the coming months and an intermediate crop to break away from the old Kentucky 31 fescue crowns that may still exist.

A recent University of Arkansas study has found that converting to even just 25 percent novel fescue in our fescue pastures, can significantly increase calving rates. This was especially true if pregnant cows were exposed to novel fescue 30 days in advance of calving.

Another great option for conversion would be to plan to establish a warm season grass in pastures, hayfields, or in both areas of the farm. Warm season grasses like bermudagrass, big bluestem, Indiangrass, Caucasian bluestem and crabgrass can also have a positive effect on reducing endophyte effects in cattle. They can also lead to more productive and higher quality hay sources from the farm.

“University research has found that native grasses like big bluestem and Indiangrass can be much more efficient in fertilizer requirements compared to other hay sources,” said Schnakenberg.

For more information, contact any of these MU Extension agronomy specialists in southwest Missouri: Tim Schnakenberg in Stone County, (417) 357-6812; Jill Scheidt in Barton County, (417) 682-3579 and Sarah Kenyon in Howell County, (417) 256-2391.