Extra moisture can extend grass growth into summer slump

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COLUMBIA, Mo. – Rain makes grass grow. That’s good for grazing livestock, but makes haying difficult.

Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, sees unusual potential for cattle producers.

Those who made a first cutting of hay can get a strong second cutting and have possible regrowth to extend the grazing season into the summer.

That second cutting provides potential for another 1.5 tons of hay per acre, Roberts says. With the price of hay, that will be worth the extra work.

Growers in the Ozarks, who have shallow soils, have an advantage this year. “That soil can dry up in a couple of days and allow cutting hay again,” he adds.

Producers going for the second cutting can boost yields by adding extra fertility. Applying 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre will boost yields.

If the baled hay will not be fed back onto the same field where it is cut, growers should also add phosphorus and potassium to maintain soil fertility.

Cool-season grasses normally go into summer slump by late June. Usually the moisture dries up, and growth of cool-season grasses slows when temperatures hit 90 degrees, Roberts says.

Current stationary weather pattern across the state indicates grass-growing weather will continue later than usual.

Roberts sees another potential benefit for cattle producers who have replaced pastures of toxic Kentucky 31 fescue with new fescue varieties containing novel endophyte.

The extended grazing season of K-31 fescue puts more of the toxin from endophyte into the grazing cattle, reducing daily gains.

Roberts has seen the difference in gains on research plots at the MU Southwest Center, Mount Vernon, Mo.

“A few years ago we had a wet year a lot like this,” Roberts says. “Steers grazing on infected K-31 ended the season with average daily gains (ADG) of half a pound a day. Calves grazing a new novel-endophyte fescue made 1.5 pounds ADG, but during the summer months they gained almost nothing.

“Prolonged wet and cool grass-growing season allowed for triple daily gains.”

An alliance of fescue seed producers and MU Extension specialists is promoting conversion of fescue pastures.

Farmers who already converted pastures to the new fescue varieties can show their neighbors the grazing potential, Roberts says.

“The difference in gains makes it an economic decision to convert.”

Forage plots with the new fescue varieties can be seen at the Southwest Center and MU Forage Systems Research Center, Linneus, Mo. Field days and grazing schools will be held at both locations.

Research farms are part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.



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