|PASTURE MANAGEMENT IN A DROUGHT YEAR|
By Don Ball
The extreme drought in 2007 has many livestock producers concerned about the condition of their pastures as well as concerned about how they are going to provide feed for their animals. This is a time when many producers are considering the feasibility of various pasture management options.
Introduce Clover. There is an old saying to the effect, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." While this may seem trite and simplistic, this concept may have some value and relevance on many livestock farms at a time like this. In some cases a little thinning or reduction of vigor of a cool season perennial grass pasture might be viewed as an opportunity to introduce clovers. Evidence of the truth of this is that "good clover years" usually follow droughts that open up pasture sods and reduce competition. However, it is important to remember that clovers and other legumes can only be expected to establish and grow well in areas in which the soil pH is suitable (usually 6.0 to 6.5 or higher) and where there are good levels of soil phosphorus and potassium available for the legume plants.
Thicken Cool Season Perennial Grass Stands. Sometimes a drought will thin cool season perennial grass pastures enough that grass forage production is likely to be severely reduced for quite some time unless stands are thickened. In such cases, simply drilling around 10 pounds of orchardgrass or tall fescue seed per acre at a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch will help ensure that there will be a good stand of perennial grass present in the field in future months. However, the value of the concept of introducing clover still applies and thus planting clover along with seeding additional cool season perennial grass should be given serious consideration.
Auburn University recommendations are to plant cool season perennial grasses in autumn because this is normally the single best time to dependably obtain a stand. However, in the northern 1/3 or so of Alabama, there is a reasonably good likelihood of success with drilling cool season perennial grass seed and/or white clover or red clover in late winter (around early March) as well. Therefore, a failure with no-till seeding in autumn, a lack of having drilled seed in autumn due to a misjudgment as to the extent to which a stand has thinned, or omission of autumn planting due to continued severe drought, might be corrected with a late winter planting.
Overseeding Warm Season Perennial Pastures. Overseeding summer pastures with winter annual forages can be of great value when hay supplies are low. Annual ryegrass in particular is well suited to be seeded into bermudagrass, bahiagrass or dallisgrass fields in autumn after the summer grass has ceased vigorous growth. Small grains can also be drilled into warm season perennial grass pastures, but are less economically feasible to plant into a sod than ryegrass because of greater seed expense and relatively little time for them to make growth before cold weather. Various annual legumes, especially crimson clover and arrowleaf clover, can also be overseeded on summer sods. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Circular ANR-227 available from Alabama County Extension offices provides detailed information about overseeding.
Interseeding Annuals Into Cool Season Perennial Pastures. Often when producers realize that their season perennial grass stands (in most cases, tall fescue pastures) have been thinned, they are tempted to seed winter annuals (especially annual grasses such as small grain and/or annual ryegrass) into them. The idea here, of course, is that this will provide some additional forage in late autumn and spring to help compensate for reduced fescue growth.
However, there can be some problems associated with seeding winter annuals into cool season perennial grass pastures. In most cases there will be little forage growth from such seedings until late February or March. Winter annuals typically make vigorous growth in spring providing good grazing for animals, but it also creates competition for the perennial grass that has already been weakened and thinned by drought. Winter annuals are especially competitive against perennial grass or legume seedlings that may be present. There may be some situations in which seeding winter annuals into cool season perennial grasses can be justified, but the negatives associated with using this technique need to be considered carefully because in many situations it can be considered a questionable practice. The feasibility of doing this is greater if a substantial portion of a pasture consists mainly of warm season species such as common bermudagrass, crabgrass or bahiagrass.
Plant Annuals On A Prepared Seedbed. Some livestock producers who realize they don’t have enough hay and/or enough cool season perennial pasture to get them through the winter after a drought may think of planting some acreage of winter annuals on a prepared seedbed. The economic feasibility of doing this depends on several factors, but especially the level of nutrition that needs to be provided to livestock and the cost of providing stored feed instead of planting the winter grazing. For many producers, prepared seedbed plantings of winter annuals could be cost effective, especially if limit grazed or strip grazed to maximize utilization of the forage produced.
Don Ball is an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with Auburn University.