As the time to plant warm season forages approaches, it’s time to start thinking about the specifics of planting these annuals. Having proper soil temperature, seedbed preparation, seed depth, seeding rate and fertility is important!
Soil Temperature -
We have already gone into why you should not plant warm season annuals too early, so when should you plant? Soil temperatures need to be at a minimum of 60 degrees and rising. Meaning you should check your soil temperatures at the coldest part of the day and it needs to be at least 60 degrees.
Seeding Depth -
The importance of accurate seeding depth tends to be overlooked with warm season annuals. For the most part, treat it as important as your corn seeding depth! Proper depths are as follows:
Similarly to seeding depth, the seedbed should be prepared the same way as your corn. A firm, but tilthy soil will provide the best environment for warm seasons to establish. For some farms this may include tillage to prepare the seedbed, or a really good no-till drill can also do the trick. The key is making sure to create a strip of loosened soil for the new seedlings to get started.
Seeding Rate -
Depending on your use of the warm season annual, seeding rates can vary from a set range. In most cases, a higher seeding rate will give you a thinner stem on warm season grasses and a lower seeding rate will increase the stalk size. Also, these rates will be lower when combined in a blend. The ranges we recommend for warm season planted alone are listed below:
Forage Sorghum = 5-9 lbs per acre
Sorghum Sudangrass = 20-25 lbs per acre
Sudangrass = 35-45 lbs per acre
Millet = 15-25 lbs per acre
Teff = 5-7 lbs per acre
Summer Blend = 20-25 lbs per acre
Warm Season Combo = 20-25 lbs per acre
Decisions for fertilizing should generally be based on a soil test. Without a soil test, a recommendation for a multi-cut crop would be a balanced fertilizer applying 30-40 units of actual nitrogen per cutting. For a single harvest crop, like forage sorghum, we would recommend 80-100 units of actual N applied at planting. This includes all forms of nitrogen such as soil available nitrogen, any N additions from previous crops, and manure applied.
Feel free to contact the office with any additional questions on warm season planting!
Clipping pastures can be an important piece of pasture management. Some management systems do not require clipping, while others can benefit from proper clipping at the right time of year. So the question becomes to clip or not to clip?
Pros of Clipping Pastures
Increased Forage Quality and Production- As pasture species, grasses specifically, move through their lifecycle, their normal process is to switch from vegetative growth to reproductive growth at a designated time. This is where seed heads come into play. Grasses slow the growth of leaves and new shoots and they switch to putting energy into creating seed. Clipping those seed heads sends the plant back into a vegetative state creating increased growth of the good stuff that livestock want instead of stemmy material. Setting the plant back into vegetative state also increases overall production by inducing the vegetative growth
The timing of when to clip for grasses would be anytime after the boot stage. Clipping before the boot stage would lead to the plant just sending up another seed head. However, the further into reproductive growth the grass is, the longer it will take to switch back to vegetative growth once it is clipped. Because of this, clipping after the boot stage, earlier in the seed head production can be the best option.
Reduced Eye Irritation - In some cases, seed heads in a pasture stands can cause eye irritation to grazing livestock as they reach through the seed head stems to graze lush growth beneath. Anecdotal evidence has shown that having seed heads clipped reduces the amount of pink eye cases from eye irritation and watering.
Weed Control - Clipping in the spring and throughout the grazing season can be an effective weed control tool. Ensuring weeds do not go to seed helps the density and longevity of the desired pasture species. This can be an especially effective way to control biennial weeds that quickly bolt in their second season of growth.
Cons of Clipping Pastures
Cost - Getting the tractor and mower out automatically costs money in fuel, machinery wear and tear, as well as labor and time. Estimated cost of pasture clipping ranges from $16-$18 per acre. This cost should be analyzed closely when deciding if clipping is the right choice for your operation.
Potential Stand Damage - Clipping stands at the right cutting height will not be detrimental to the stand. However, pastures clipped too short in the spring can have production issues the rest of the season. Spring is a time when grasses are pulling energy straight from their root reserves, knowing the sun and warmth is coming to replenish those. If pastures are clipped too short to where the plant does not have enough leaf area to photosynthesize, the plant can be damaged. At that point, it will have very little remaining root reserves to pull from. Keep clipping height to a minimum of 4 inches to maintain adequate leaf area for regrowth.
Keep the above pros and cons in mind when making decisions about clipping pastures. If you have questions specific to your pasture, comment below or give the office a call. We would be happy to talk it over!
Coming off of challenging weather in 2019, many are looking for alternative forage options for this summer. Warm season annuals planted alone or in blends, can help handle the too wet springs and the too dry summers. The options mainly vary in desired harvest method and feed goals. Prairie Creek Seed focuses on the following warm seasons:
BMR Forage Sorghum -
If you are looking for a warm season that can serve as a corn silage replacement in a one-cut system, then forage sorghum is your move. In droughty and lower-fertility soils, forage sorghum can have comparable dry matter yields to corn silage. On good ground, forage sorghum will generally produce 80% of what corn silage would. Forage sorghums can be harvested standing and stored like corn silage. Around the soft dough stage, forage sorghum can provide a sugar-starch equivalent to corn silage with similar protein levels. A bonus is it’s extremely digestible fiber throughout the plant.
BMR Sorghum Sudangrass -
This is a cross between forage sorghum and sudangrass. This warm season brings the height and robust structure of a forage sorghum combined with the smaller stem of sudangrass. Sorghum sudan is a flexible forage that can be harvested multiple times in a season as silage or strip grazed. With a dry matter yield potential of 5-7 tons per acre, sorghum sudan can provide excellent stored feed. Depending on the type of feed you are looking for will decide when you harvest the sorghum sudan cuttings. Harvested or grazed early, this will have higher protein, low lignin and negligible sugars. Later harvest provides moderate protein with increased sugars as the plant matures. All the while, the fiber digestibility remains steady and palatability high.
BMR Sudangrass -
Looking for an annual to make baleage? Want the highest quality possible? Sudangrass is your answer. This warm season will have finer stems and thinner leaves than the previous two options. This is why sudangrass makes excellent, tighter bales that can store and ferment properly. For grazing, sudangrass can provide increased tillering with its regrowth contributing to the second or even third pass. Protein levels at boot stage can be 15-18% making this a possible haleage replacement if needed.
While it may be tempting to get your hands on your warm season seed and put it in the ground early, that could be detrimental to your summer forage…
The Right Time
Warm season annual forages such as forage sorghum, sorghum sudangrass, sudangrass, millet, teff and others are C4 grasses originated in places much warmer than the midwest. Especially warmer than the midwest in May. This is why it is very important for soil temperatures to be a minimum of 60 degrees and rising. Soil temperatures should be taken at 7 am at a depth of 4 inches.
Consequences of the Wrong Time
If the soil temperature requirements are not met, your entire stand of warm seasons could be compromised. An Oklahoma State University study of grain sorghum found a range of 20-35% reduction in germination at 53 degrees compared to germination at 60 degrees. Germination reductions lead to tonnage reductions at harvest time.
The seed size of warm seasons makes this slowed germination even more difficult. Warm season grasses range from 18,000 seeds per pound to 1.3 million seeds per pound. For some perspective, corn is about 1600 seeds per pound. Warm seasons have a much smaller energy reserve to pull from while germinating. The longer it takes that seedling to get started and establish a root system, the more it has to deplete that energy source. Also, the longer that tiny seedling takes to get established, more time is left for pathogens to take over.
This rough start to the beginning of the warm season plant’s life means an overall weaker plant and root system. As the plant grows, a weak root system will also have a hard time stabilizing that plant which can lead to lodging later on in the season.
Overall, incorrect timing of warm season annuals can have effects that the stand cannot come out from. Waiting for correct soil temperatures will give your warm seasons the start they need to produce valuable forage for your livestock.
Interseeder Plus is a diverse mix of Annual Ryegrass, Crimson Clover, Balansa Clover, and Hybrid Brassica.
Interseeder Plus has shown excellent shade tolerance and is able to withstand the extreme shade under the corn canopy, this mix is not recommended for interseeding into soybeans.
Producers have had success using this blend for erosion and weed control and to capture nutrients in the soil where the next crop needs them.
This cover crop blend was designed to capture excess nutrients in the late summer and early fall after the corn hits black layer.
Interseeder Plus can provide an excellent fall grazing once the corn is harvested.
Through research of various species, we created Interseeder Plus to have the best varieties that could handle the shading of the corn without negatively affecting the corn yields. There are a few different ways to plant Interseeder Plus into corn fields such as broadcasting, setting up the side dress applicators with a seed box, retro-fitting drills, or purchasing interseeders that are designed for drilling into standing corn. It is best to get good seed to soil contact for establishment. The recommended rate for drilling the blend is 14-16 lbs per acre, putting the cost of seed around $21 per acre. If the only option is to broadcast the mix, we do recommend increasing the rate to around 17-20 lbs per acre.
Having a living root in the ground between corn rows leads to increased biological diversity and improved soil health. These factors can positively affect the following years crops in regards to yield and plant health. After interseeded corn is harvested, Interseeder Plus can provide an excellent grazing option. The green material from the blend provides palatable, higher protein feed that combines well with the usual grazing of corn stalks.
Interseeder Plus will winterkill in the upper Midwest regions unless temperatures are moderate or there is adequate snow cover for insulation. In the case that Interseeder Plus overwinters, producers have directly planted the next cash crop into the stand in the spring and have had great success. The mix can also be terminated prior to planting with a burndown in the spring. Remember to check the pH in the spray water and spray when the cover is in a growing state. Ideally on a day of 60 Degrees or better.
It’s that time of year, cereal rye is growing like crazy and will be ready to harvest as forage soon. Cereal rye works well as silage, baleage, and can also be grazed, but when is it ready to harvest? The timing of when to harvest cereal rye depends on if your main goal for the forage is quality or tonnage:
If gaining high quality forage is your goal, you will want to aim for harvesting at boot stage. As shown above, the boot stage is when the flag leaf has emerged and the seed head has formed within the stem, but has not yet emerged. The forage at this time will be at its peak of digestibility and energy. After this stage, the rye begins to lignify and quality declines. Protein levels can be expected to be around 8-13% and cry matter will be 21-32% (Drovers). The downside of harvesting cereal rye at this time is the tonnage will not be as high as cereal rye can achieve, which leads us to the next harvest stage...
When dairy-quality feed is not something your farm requires, achieving tonnage goals may be more important to you. Harvesting cereal rye closer to the soft dough stage will help maximize the tonnage received from cereal rye. The soft dough stage shown above is when the seed head is fully emerged and is beginning to convert sugars to starch. A good test to see if your cereal rye is at this stage is to take a seed between your fingers and squeeze. The seed head should burst, but the contents should be thicker, like dough, and not milky. Compared to the quality and boot stage, forage harvested at the soft dough stage will be slightly less digestible and contain more starch.
If you aim for a harvest time between these two points, you may achieve a balance of tonnage and quality. It really depends on the goals of your farm!
"Forage Focus: Cereal rye - A cover crop with feed value?" Drovers, 2 Oct. 2013.
One double edged sword of cereal rye is its use of moisture. When springs have excessive moisture, cereal rye can be like a straw stuck in the soil to pull up and use that extra moisture. However, in ground that does not have moisture to spare, that moisture used by cereal rye can be a negative. A good way to manage this part of your termination decision is to know the soil types of fields and how they hold moisture. Using a soil moisture meter can also be a way to determine when to terminate your cereal rye.
We receive a lot of questions about the concern of the allelopathic effect of cereal rye on subsequent crops. While this can be evident in some cases, we have also seen that this is commonly a nutrient tie-up situation. Cereal rye is very fast growing in the spring, and with that comes a lot of nutrients being taken up into the plant, including nitrogen.
The timing of cereal rye termination decides how quickly those nutrients release back to the soil. Cereal rye terminated early, while still vegetaitve, will break down quickly and release nutrients that it accumulated. In some cases, this quick release can act as a starter fertilizer for the cash crop. On the other hand, cereal rye terminated late will take longer to break down. This is due to a higher carbon content of the plant. This delayed release of nutrients, nitrogen specifically, can cause issues with early growth of cash crops like corn.
Having equipment properly set up to handle cereal rye residue is important. In a no-till situation, having proper residue clearing equipment on the planter will help ensure uniform planting depth. Another equipment option that is used to terminate cereal rye is a roller crimper. This process is done when the cereal rye is at anthesis (when the seed head begins shedding pollen) and terminates the rye by snapping the stem and crimping the plant to let moisture out. This can be an effective weed control method as the cereal rye lays down and provides a protective barrier that can also keep soil moisture in to battle drought. Having your planter set up with adequate down pressure to plant into a rye mat is a key consideration.
What to Spray
If you are planning a chemical termination of your cereal rye, consult your local herbicide provider for specifics on what will work best on your ground. Below are the results of a 3 year study conducted in Missouri as a reference of what some common combinations are.
When to Spray
Just like we spoke about above, there are many factors that play into the timing of spraying. It is important to consider the moisture and nutrients the cereal rye will use before it is terminated. Below is one example of a study done on the termination date of cereal rye. Keep in mind this is just one study in one year, so things will vary from year to year and farm to farm.
In the end, the overall benefits of cereal rye make it a great cover crop option. Having the living root in the ground over the winter benefits soil biology and is a strong erosion control method. The quick growing fibrous root system is also working for you this spring by building soil structure and stimulating soil biology to prime your soil for your cash crops.
Watch for upcoming information on when to harvest your cereal rye as forage!
Gailans, Stefen. "Cereal Rye Cover Crop Termination Date Before Corn." Practical Farmers of Iowa, 3 May 2019.
"Terminating a Cereal Rye Cover Crop – Things to Consider." University of Nebraska Lincoln, 13 Apr. 2017.
As you evaluate your pastures this spring, you may have discovered that some of them call for a renovation of some sort. What are your options for sprucing them up?
To add to a pasture while keeping what you have already, using a drill to interseed is one of the most effective methods. This can be done in many situations except where you have a dense stand of a sod-forming grass or species that you do not want (we will get to that in the next point). This method is a great solution for highly erodible areas that should not be worked up for a new seeding.
Using a good no-till drill to create a strip of loosened soil for the new seedlings to get started in is critical to a successful establishment. We also recommend focusing on a consistent seeding depth of ¼” to ½” and making sure the soil is firmed behind the seeding. The method of grazing the existing stand tightly then drilling then grazing lightly again can be effective in allowing light to reach the new seedlings.
In situations where interseeding just won’t cut it, a total renovation may be necessary in less erodible areas. For a stand to “qualify” for this, it could be composed of all undesirable/low-productivity species or it could be a dense sod that you would not be able to get a drill through. We would recommend grabbing your tillage tool of choice (just this one time) and reset the stand with a whole new seeding of desirable species.
Please do not try frost seeding still this year! In most places, this window has passed... This could be a though for next year if you are looking to increase diversity in your pasture stands. This method is not recommended for grasses, but many legumes can frost seed well in proper conditions. The way frost seeding works is using the freeze-thaw cycle of the soil to pull seed down in. This has to be done in the window of time where the days are warm (at least 40 degrees) and the nights still get below freezing. Also, there must be bare soil for the seed to come in contact with and get pulled in.
Keep in mind the goal of your pasture when making these decisions and give us a call for ideas of what your pasture might need!
Winter annuals: planted in the fall, there for you in the spring! These types of crops are seeded in the fall and require a vernalization period in the winter in order to go into full production mode. As winter annuals such as cereal rye, winter wheat, and winter triticale come up this spring, they are ready to grow as forage and will go to seed later on this spring, if allowed. What is the best way to use these?
Wheat, triticale and rye can all provide excellent forage quality as harvested feed as well as grazing. Cereal rye is photoperiod sensitive, so it will head out the same time of year, no matter its size. This means the grazing window is the same length whether you rotationally graze through the cereal rye or not. We have found that the best management may be to set stock cereal rye because of its fast growth in the spring.
The minimum height we look for to turn cattle onto the cereal rye is at least 6-8 inches. If you must put livestock on earlier, it can be 4-6 inches tall with dry hay supplemented. Just like when you are grazing pastures earlier than desired, having dry hay available is important for maintaining rumen fill. Also, be cautious of mineral imbalance issues, such as grass tetany when grazing young grass such as grass tetany.
As these winter annuals green up and get going in the spring, they can serve as the perfect environment to calve on. The quickly establishing grass can help soak up early spring moisture helping with any muddy conditions. Calving on clean grass can improve overall calf health early on.
How are you managing your winter annuals this spring?
There are many factors that may determine when you turn livestock onto pasture this spring. It may be when the pasture is ready, after calving, or when your stored feeds are used up. Most are aiming for the timing to be when the pasture is ready. If it has to be earlier than that, we gave some tips in the previous post of how to manage pastures early. Now, let’s look at how to know when pastures are ready to be grazed:
Turning livestock out when the grass is ready is important to the longevity and productivity of your stand. The goal height for grass will vary from farm to farm, but a rule of thumb in a perfect world is 10-16 inches. Another option for spring grazing would be preparing the fall before and stockpiling some forages to let livestock on in the spring. A pasture stick is a great tool to judge the height and density of your pastures in the spring. Once your pasture is ready, you are able to begin rotation grazing.
There are many benefits to waiting until the pastures have grown enough to begin grazing. First is the forage quality. More developed pastures are going to have grasses that have higher fiber content and lower protein (see images below). This provides better nutritional value to the livestock as more digestible protein holds the forage in the rumen longer providing higher utilization of your valuable pasture forage.
Grazing taller grasses also contributes to the overall tonnage of pastures in the spring as well as throughout the season:
Another common concern in spring grazing is how wet pastures can be. Even though it will vary from year to year, giving the pastures time to grow and dry out a little more will benefit the health of the stand. Turning cattle into a taller, drier pasture will reduce the pugging and tearing up of the stand as well as erosion that can occur on a pasture grazed too early.
We know every year is different, and weather conditions can be a major challenge, but using some of these guidelines can greatly improve your pasture utilization this spring.