Now, don't let the name deceive you; alfalfa cannot be seeded the same day as trick-or-treating in the Midwest. However, late summer into the beginning of fall can be a great time to establish next year’s alfalfa fields.
One benefit is having this time available. Generally, this seeding window will land after spring and mid-summer seeding work is done and before harvest of other cash crops gets into full swing. It is important to finish planting at least six weeks before a hard freeze when there is moisture available (this will be important later). Another positive is there is usually less weed pressure for this new seedings in the fall. With summer annual weeds dying out as temperatures lower slightly, the new seeding will have less competition than spring seedings where those aggressive weeds can be your worst enemy. This helps establish a strong stand and takes away the requirement for a nurse crop, saving a little cash to spend on Halloween candy!
Remember that point about moisture early? Sometimes August to September can be dry unlike the ample rain available in the spring. If your alfalfa seeding happens to miss some of our fall showers, there can be trouble getting the seeds to germinate and plants to establish. However, if you pay attention to the forecast for seeding times, and Mother Nature works with us, the gentle fall rains can be perfect. The colder side of Mother Nature can be your other battle for fall seedings. If your hard freeze arrives sooner than expected, you could have some winter kill in areas where the alfalfa seedlings were not able to establish a hardy root system.
To summarize, general guidelines would be as follows:
Pasture management is a common topic on Beyond Agronomy, but that is because it is so important to maintain productivity, forage quality and lifespan of your stand. Fall management can be what makes or breaks your pasture going into the winter.
The amount of stubble remaining after grazing is critical year-round and overgrazing can be caustic to the stand itself as well as forage quality. The fall is no exception. Grasses should be grazed or cut o shorter than 3-4 inches going into the fall or winter. Leaving more residue in the fall allows for quicker regrowth in the spring. Grazing below the recommended height would not leave enough surface area for plants to begin growing in spring and could cause winter kill. Conversely, leaving too much above ground growth that will not be grazed of the winter can have negative effects. When snow falls on “too tall” grass, it can cause the structure to collapse and create an environment with little air movement for snow mold to develop. During a winter with little snow cover, grass with too much top growth can readily have moisture wicked out of the plant. While avoiding both extremes of too tall and too short, you might leave grass stubbles at different heights in different paddocks. This would be for areas you are not stockpiling and will based on how you want the operation’s grazing wedge to be set up the following spring.
Late Fall-Winter Grazing
Speaking of stockpiling, how do you begin stockpiling for winter and fall feed? This begins with planning ahead. If you are not adding fall soil amendments, mainly nitrogen, desired paddocks should begin stockpiling rest at the beginning of August (this will vary based on region). When soil amendments like nitrogen are added, stockpiling rest should begin mid-August no ensure that burst of growth does not get too tall going into late fall and winter. Once your forage is stockpiled you can rotate through it making sure to still leave adequate stubble height.
Fall can be a good time for adding soil amendments to correct or increase anything that your soil tests tell you. If your pasture does need any fertility improvements, these additions can help build root reserves of your grasses preparing them for winter. Manure is safe to be applied in appropriate amounts once plants are dormant. Key word is “dormant.” Barenburg warns that “applying manure on green, non-dormant grass might stimulate growth, causing winter injury” to that new growth during the winter. Keep in mind that in pastures that include legumes, addition of nitrogen can be less of a concern. The legumes will release their fixed nitrogen as some of their top growth is breaking down over the winter. As always, ensure weather and field conditions are correct for making these amendments.
Protect your pastures like the investment they are this fall!
Catch up on the afternoon sessions from our July 25th Virtual field day with the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition at Jamie Labat’s!
Session Three: Oats and Clover Cover Crop
In this session, Jamie Labat is joined by Prairie Creek Seed’s Agronomist, Amanda Rollins. The two walk through field history and the goals of his oat field that was underseeded with red clover. The main topics discussed include how the field was seeded, what the goal of the clover is, residue management, and what the field will be next year. Watch the full session as well as a full Fall Cover Crop Powerpoint HERE!
Session Four: Planting Green- Sunflowers
Jamie and Jennifer, from the MSHC, go over how Jamie planted his oilseed sunflowers into a cereal rye cover crop stand. Jamie explains what he liked as well as what he would change about the process. The two dive into the benefits of planting green and how residue protects the soil from erosion and feeds soil biology. Watch it all HERE!
Feel free to send us any questions about topics discussed in these videos in the comments below or through our Facebook.
Did you know Prairie Creek Seed partnered with the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition to bring you four unique, live events last month? In case you missed them, below is a recap of the morning sessions!
Session One: Soil Health
Jennifer Hahn from the MSHC joined Minnesota farmer and coalition member, Jamie Labat in one of his fields the morning of Saturday, July 25th. This first session was focussed on the importance of soil health on Jamie’s diversified farm. The two discussed where Jamie’s ground started and what steps he has taken to improve the health of his soil in order to grow healthy crops and forage for his livestock. Their discussion focuses on soil structure and how soils can be transformed. Watch the full video HERE!
Session Two: Cover Crop Pasture
In this session, Jamie is joined by Prairie Creek Seed’s Karl Dallefeld to discuss his cover crop grazing and perennial pastures. Jamie raises beef cattle by utilizing rotational grazing on annual cover crops as well as cool season perennial pastures. Their discussion focuses on how Jamie is using the annual cover crops to transition row crop ground into perennial pasture and why that step is so important. The two also take a look at Jamie’s current perennial pasture and discuss how to increase diversity and improve his grazing rotation to meet yield and soil health goals. Watch their full discussion as well as a fall pasture management presentation from Karl HERE!
Feel free to send us any questions about topics discussed in these videos in the comments below or through our Facebook.
Have you ever wondered what kind of rotational grazing gadgets a group of over 17,000 graziers would recommend? We answered that question for you! Take a look, links to many items included!
From the over 100 responses, 11% claimed their most useful grazing tool was a reliable water source. Ensuring livestock have an adequate water supply in every paddock is often a key starting point when planning a grazing rotation. This is important for keeping cattle healthy and able to continue grazing. Some specific examples mentioned were the Tomcat MFG portable water tanks and Solar Pump Solutions water pumps.
Specific fence posts were mentioned in 15% of responses. The preferred type of posts was different from grazier to grazier. One option graziers raved about was the Gallagher Tumble Wheels that provide quick moving of fence sections without having to pull posts. Another common post mentioned, and a favorite of PCS’s Karl and Kyle Dallefeld, is the O'Briens Treadaline Step-In Post for easy post placement. A few responses also mentioned the Gallagher Smart Fence system, which can be seen in action in this video.
ATVs and UTVs made up 11% of the graziers responses. Many of these set-ups contain an organized storage system of posts, reels, and tools needed to move paddocks. A great example can be seen here in our video showing a PCS customer in Decorah, IA moving livestock to a new paddock while grazing stockpiled summer annuals.
Good Cows and a Good Dog
One gadget we were not expecting was “Good Cows,” however 6% of graziers gave us this! They mentioned that well-practiced livestock that were accustomed to timely moves to greener pastures allowed easy moves when rotating paddocks. Along with good cows, good dogs were mentioned as useful grazing “gadgets” and made up 9% of responses. These dogs can aid in movement of livestock, but can also serve as protection for young or small livestock when they are on pasture.
Grazing Management Tools
The lowest percentage response was grazing management tools, including grazing charts and pasture sticks, at 6%, but we feel these tools are very important especially when beginning your practice of rotational grazing. One grazier mentioned using a grazing chart which can be downloaded here. These charts are useful in planning ahead for where your livestock will be rotating to and keeping good records where you may have rotated too fast or too slow. Another grazing tool that we recommend is a pasture stick. In our Beginning Rotational Grazing post, you can read how to best utilize this tool when planning how long livestock should be in a specific paddock.
Batt-Latch automatic gate release timer was recommended by 6% of respondents. This is a useful tool for moves that occur more than once a day.
Electric Fence Tools
Gadgets that make electric fence management simpler made up the largest percentage of responses at 23%, but there are many different items in this category. Specifics mentioned included fence testing and fault finding tools as well as these Zammr handles for gate latching. Many products mentioned allowed remote monitoring of fence lines to make sure they are active to keep livestock where they are intended to be.
Geared reels can make reeling up fences much quicker and made up 9% of grazier responses. This tool helps with time efficiency and makes rotational grazing an easier process. One caution is to not use a geared reel when using a drill to pull in the fence as seen in the grazing video mentioned about.
The final type of response we received as a useful grazing gadget is stockmanship. From handling cattle with respect to low stress moving tactics, practicing good stockmanship is important to 6% of graziers in this example. There are low stress stock handling classes that can allow rotational graziers to learn the safest and most efficient ways to handle livestock when moving them from paddock to paddock.
What is your favorite rotational grazing gadget?
*PCS is not affiliated with any companies linked in this post*
You may be looking at some of your pastures this summer and thinking they need a little boost. Fall can be a great time to interseed into pastures to increase density or diversity.
As we approach fall, our summer temperatures will begin to decline and we may pick-up some additional rain here and there. Cool season pastures will be waking up more than they were mid-summer, but will not be as active as they were in the spring. Interseeding at this time takes advantage of the weather conditions and slightly slowed growth of what is currently in the pasture. In the Upper Midwest, mid-August to the beginning of September is a common window to drill in new species. The main timeline to keep in mind is seeding at least six weeks before a hard frost. This allows the new seedling to establish enough to overwinter.
What to Add
What you choose to interseed really depends on what the use of the paddock is. If it is a hay field, adding in additional species that will dry down is important. If it is a legume dominated pasture, you may want to drill in additional grasses and look at your management that may be allowing only legumes to thrive. Fall interseeding can also be a great time to increase diversity of a mostly-grass pasture by adding legumes and forbs. Not sure what species you need? Give PCS a call to discuss pasture options!
Fall and Spring Management
Interseeded pastures should not be grazed in the fall unless it is a quick graze across to clip existing species and allow light down to new seedlings. These interseeded areas should also not be grazed too heavily right away in the spring as that can also damage the interseeded seedlings. Make sure to scout the pastures in the spring to analyze winter survival of the interseeding. Weed control in these areas is important in order to avoid the interseeded species from getting shaded out, so clipping may be a useful tool in these areas.
What do you plan to add to your pastures this fall?
What is stockpiling? We would define it as the practice of accumulating pasture growth in the fall to use as a forage source going into the winter. How is this done?
The goal of stockpiling is to take advantage of fall conditions to gain growth on perennial pastures that can be grazing into the winter even after a frost. To get adequate tonnage for stockpiling, the process should start in August in the Midwest. Utilizing August and September temperatures will benefit the amount of dry matter you can accumulate for the fall/winter grazing. Extending the grazing season with stockpiling allows you to cut costs by saving on the amount of stored feed that is needed throughout the winter.
Paddocks that you plan on stockpiling should be strategically chosen so that you are able to rotate through them. This will maximize the utilization of that forage that has built up. Your rotation can be planned in a similar way to spring and summer grazing. These stockpiled forages should still have a stubble height of at least 4 inches after the final pass over them. This will ensure those paddocks are not stunted too much in the spring when they begin to wake up.
One consideration when planning your stockpiling is ensuring that stockpiled forage will be grazed in a timely manner. This should be before too much snowfall. Heavy snow can inhibit air movement among the grass, creating an environment for molds to form rendering the forage unpalatable to livestock. Snow that crusts or has a layer of ice can also prevent livestock from being able to access the stockpiled forage leading to those areas being wasted.
What is your plan for stockpiling forage this fall?
When you think of plantain and chicory, do you immediately picture the stemmy plants you see along the roadside or in your yard? Not all of these forbs are the same! As Kyle mentioned in our Winter Meetings, “Someone’s life work has been to breed these “weeds” into something that will provide more forage for your livestock.” Prairie Creek Seed uses improved forage varieties of plantain and chicory and here is why your pasture needs them:
Forbs are Deep Rooted
Chicory and plantain are naturally deep rooted, which provides a number of benefits. First, the deep roots can reach deeper levels of moisture in the soil making them more resilient to times of drought in the summer. Greener pasture in the middle of the summer is a good thing! Also, the deeper soil levels that these roots reach allow them to access and pull up nutrients from that deeper level.Those nutrients contribute to the forage quality of forbs by giving them high levels of micronutrients.
Chicory and plantain have been shown to serve as “medicinal” plants to livestock. Some ailments in livestock can lead them to graze more forbs and help mediate the issue in some cases. Forbs can also have deworming properties to reduce parasite counts in livestock.
The palatable and digestible leaves of forbs provide diversity to your forage which, in turn, increases forage quality. Below ground, the forb root systems vary from the grasses and legumes that may already be in your pasture. This benefits the soil biologically and physically. All different roots put out different root exudates that give soil biology diversity in their diet and may bring in new biology to improve your soil. The physical difference in the root provides a new system to hold soil together and improve structure.
An important thing to remember is forbs need adequate rest and recovery time in order to stay established in a stand. If you having a grazign rotation that will work with this, consider adding forbs to your pastures this spring!
You’ve discovered your pasture needs renovation. You know how you are going to renovate. Now you are wondering “Which grasses do I need?” We’ve touched on some examples before on what to interseed into thinning pastures, but let’s get more specific to your situation. These factors affect what grasses and legumes you need:
Where in the world are you? All grasses and legumes have different levels of moisture and heat that they work best under. Depending on your region, summer conditions can vary greatly. Orchardgrass and tall fescue are great options where heat tolerance is needed, whereas perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass do not handle heat as well.
Class of animal
Who is going to be eating? Some grasses provide high quality food with highly digestible fiber. Examples would be meadow fescue, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, and festulolium. This makes them high energy options that work well for making dairy quality feed. Not all livestock need such high energy forage, so those grasses may not be necessary in a mix. For livestock who need higher protein, perennial legumes can also be good to have in your stand.
Sand or Clay? Different soil types and fertility levels support certain grasses and legumes. Some grasses and legumes can handle wet soils: alsike clover, tall fescue, and timothy. Others need a higher plane of fertility to perform best like meadow fescue.
How much rest will each paddock get? This is one of the first questions we ask when recommending grass and legume species. A very general rule of thumb is the longer rest and recovery a paddock is given, the more diversity can be in a mix including more legumes and higher energy grasses. A set stock situation is a little more limited to “tougher” grasses and legumes that can handle traffic and grazing, but may not provide as high of forage quality.
Do you need it dry? Harvest method is another big factor in the amount of diversity a mix can have. For grazing or making wet bales, the options are more broad. High-energy grasses and almost all perennial legumes can work very well for making baleage and being grazed with longer recovery. If you need to harvest the stand as dry hay, your options are mostly down to tall fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, red clover and alfalfa in a mix. The reason for this is many high-energy grasses like perennial ryegrass have a waxy coating on the underside of the leaf that prevents it from drying when cut. See the picture below that compared an orchardgrass blade to a shiny perennial ryegrass blade:
We have created this chart to compare some perennial species’ characteristics!
Have you run out of grass? We have said it before: Rotational grazing is not an exact science. It is an evolving system that will vary from farm to farm and year to year. When challenges arise, it is important to ask questions and see what you can change to avoid the same thing happening again.
If you have gotten ahead of your paddocks and have run out of grass for grazing, the first step is to make sure livestock have an alternative forage source. This usually comes in the form of stored forages to supplement the lack of forage available to graze.
When you get ahead of your paddocks in your rotation, it is important to stick to the planned recovery time as much as possible. It is best to avoid going back into paddocks before they are fully recovered. This is especially important during mid-summer dry times. Overgrazing pastures at this time can set back grasses too far. Overgrazing before pastures have recovered during the summer can create long lasting damage that the paddocks can have a hard time recovering from.
It is important to evaluate why the livestock got ahead of the grass during your rotation. Was it because of the weather? Was it too dry in order for your paddocks to recover in the way you anticipated? Are you overstocked? Should you reevaluate your land’s carrying capacity? Use this situation as a learning tool to plan ahead for next year.
One way to plan ahead for pasture shortages is using annuals. Certain areas can be designated to cool season annuals that can be grazed in the spring or fall when pastures are too wet for livestock to be on. Other areas can be set aside and seeded into warm season annuals. Many warm season annuals can thrive in drier, hotter summer conditions. These forages serve as a great area to strip graze mid-summer when cool season pastures are slowing.
If you run out of grass, feed the cows, then look into the “why.”