|For What It's Worth|
|What Will Your Livestock Graze This Summer?|
My original title for this article was "What to Plant This Spring," but I took it a step further with the intention of encouraging consideration for what your animals will be grazing this summer based on what you plant this spring. It is traditional to sow grass seed in the fall, but spring also provides opportunities to sow additional forges, legumes, etc.
By the time you read this article, the southern half of the state will be well past worrying about frost, while the northern half will still be cautious about a final frost. Time to get that seed planted following final frost.
By now, you should have done your research on forages, legumes, etc., that will best serve the nutrient requirements of your animals and what seasons those forages are best suited for vegetative growth. I am also assuming you have the results of soil testing for your intended areas, you have already applied the appropriate soil nutrients and the area is prepared for sowing. The question is: have you made sure your animals will have some type of vegetation to graze during the heat and drought of summer?
When it comes to cool-season grazing, you have choices of many grasses and several types of clovers. While all are prolific during spring and fall, that is not the situation for winter or summer. During winter months, there is rye grass, oats and winter wheat; possibly chicory and rape. Practicality of each choice is dependent upon what region of the state your farm is located: South, Mid, North, West, etc.
However, when it comes to summer months (mid-June to mid-September) the extreme heat and limited rainfall inhibits the growth of many grasses, legumes and forbs. Despite these adverse climatic conditions, animals still have nutritional needs and like to keep occupied with something to graze. Fescue, orchard grass and, to some extent, Bermuda grass and clovers tend to remain dormant during the heat of summer. Now is the time to evaluate what type of vegetation will perform during the summer months, what your animals prefer to graze, and what can be affordable and readily-established. Another minor consideration is whether it will come back each year or need to be re-established every year (perennial or annual)?
There are several choices; preference will vary from farm-to-farm, manager-to-manager, cost, equipment and the type of livestock. This article addresses a few options, but for more information consult Extension publications, planting guides for grasses and for other legumes, Extension expertise, your local Quality Co-op to see what is readily available and other farmers with same type livestock to see what their experience indicates.
A basic suggestion on what might work would be crabgrass and soybean plants (soybeans are a perk); they both have quality nutrition and TDN values, palatability, and tend to be hardy in moderate-drought situations. However, cost of seed and equipment needed to plant can be a factor; last time I checked crabgrass, its seed was $30 for a five pound bag, with a seeding rate of four to five pounds per acre—rather pricey. This may be relatively affordable for 10-20 acres, but cost accumulates quickly. A mixture of crabgrass and soybean hay makes for quality bales. Sericea lespedeza is an excellent choice for summer grazing and with the right equipment makes for a nice bale of hay. However, all the aforementioned will likely require a conditioner to prepare the hay for baling. Again, there are several options and varieties, and cost will vary. Check with your preferred source to see what they offer, I am not sure about the cost of soybean seed.
When it comes to summer grazing materials for your animals, there are several options and cost will vary to establish. Cost-of-planting, maintenance and baling equipment (if you decide to make hay) are important considerations in comparison to benefits.
If you have the ability to control where your animals graze, try to "stockpile" forages by setting aside a paddock or two where forages will not be harvested (by animals or man) until the winter months. This will allow animals access to grazing material during winter months. With long-term planning, this game plan should work for you, benefit your animals and help to reduce supplemental feeding costs like grain feed and purchasing hay!
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.