AMES, Iowa -- The dry conditions of last fall and the winter have left lingering effects on Iowa’s pastures. According to a forage expert at Iowa State University (ISU), there are several things producers can do now to improve forage conditions, and several things that can be done if the drought continues.
Dan Morrical, ISU Extension grazing specialist, says the first thing producers can do is begin rotational grazing “By installing cross fencing and creating three or more sections per pasture, a system can gain a 10 percent increase in production in the first year.”
Last fall’s dry conditions mean that pastures will green up slower and grow more slowly this spring. Morrical suggests that producers delay turnout. However, this is a hard decision because the drought has left producers short of hay as well.
Morrical offers several management tips to help manage feed sources, including buying hay, using hay rings to reduce waste, feeding corn, supplementing with distillers grains, and grazing hay fields lightly and then moving cows to permanent pastures.
To boost forage and hay production, Morrical recommends applying nitrogen at a rate of 50 pounds per acre. “The added nitrogen will result in one ton of extra yield per acre for a cost of only $25,” he says. “That’s about the cheapest feed you can buy.”
Morrical advises producers to take the time to assess stand vigor and density, by looking for bare dirt and early signs of weed encroachment. These forage problems can be solved with weed-control spraying this spring, and interseeding grasses and legumes at any time of the growing season. “Producers can interseed with a no-till drill, which may be rented from NRCS (Natural Resources Conservations Service),” he says.
If the dry conditions continue, adding summer annuals can add to forage production. Morrical recommends annuals like millet and sorghum-sudan grass hybrids. The annuals can add a lot of yield during the summer grazing slump, and if producers can rest adequate amounts of pasture in the summer, they can eliminate the need to feed hay. Feeding hay costs more than grazing as it requires much more labor and time.
While it may sound counterintuitive going into spring, Morrical advises that it may be a good time to assess the winter hay feeding system. “Finding alternatives to free up hay ground for summer grazing can help immensely as we try to overcome dry conditions and low levels of production,” he says.
A few options for winter systems include ensiling corn stalk fodder with condensing distillers solubles or wet distillers grains and even grazing standing corn, which research has shown can boost economic viability.
For more information, visit the ‘Drought Resource’ page at www.iowabeefcenter.org.