Pastures are green statewide and everyone has plenty of hay this year. So most are content to manage as normal and not plan for any bad weather conditions ahead. Since most have baled hay all summer they will feed hay all winter – again. But, short memory is what leads to trouble in forage management. Remember last year in the great drought of 2012. Nearly all pastures dried up. Nobody believed anything could be done to improve their grazing situation. Then the hurricane rains came in late August. Pastures that had been managed well during drought recovered quickly. Producers that planted forage turnips, wheat, and ryegrass saw tremendous forage growth that got their herds through winter. Those that fertilized for stockpiled bermudagrass or stockpiled fescue saw excellent forage growth. Now fast forward to this year -2013. June was hot and dry and the forecast was for more of the same. Thirty days later rains fell across the state and by mid-August pastures were green like springtime. Now in late August we are back in a hot, dry summer heat pattern. What will conditions be like in September, October, or even January? What if the winter is colder than normal? If this current summer pattern holds for the next month, pastures could be grazed out and then hay feeding would start early. Is your hay quality even close to good enough? These uncertain and odd weather patterns make advance planning more important than ever before. Now is the time to locate seed for planting winter annuals such as ryegrass, small grains, and even forage brassicas like turnips or rape. The brassicas need to be planted before September 15. Ryegrass and small grains can be planted during September for fall grazing or in October for grazing later in winter. Instead of planting a new forage, producers can also use what they have available. Fescue pastures can be clipped and fertilized in early September to stockpile for grazing in winter. Growing forage for grazing is much more economical than harvesting hay and feeding. But having good forage to graze during fall and winter requires planning ahead and putting the plan into action in late summer. This year since fields are green, nobody believes they need to do anything now. Last year nobody believed anything could work. Last fall at the Batesville Research Station in our 300 Days Grazing demonstration we managed for stockpiled bermudagrass, stockpiled fescue, and planted wheat and forage turnips. Because we had a plan in place, in thirty days we went from feeding hay in summer to grazing lush forage. It all worked and we fed hay only 30 days all winter. Good forage plans always work in both good years and bad years. Rain makes the plans work better. So this is a great year to stick with a fall and winter forage plan. Don’t get complacent and believe that because it’s green now, it will be green through fall and winter. You never know what will happen in thirty days when it comes to forage growth.
Source: John Jennings, Professor – Extension Forages