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CATTLE TODAY

NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE PLANS FOR WINTER FORAGE

by: Gary Bates
Professor, Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee Extension Service


With fall approaching, it is time to begin planning the winter forage program. A little effort now can pay big dividends later. Here are a few management practices to incorporate into your overall cattle program.

(1) Stockpile tall fescue. Stockpiling tall fescue has the potential to add approximately 60 more days to the fall grazing season. This will be 60 days when no hay will have to be fed. Stockpiling is trying to save forage for use later in the season while it is still growing. Research has shown that fall growth of tall fescue is high quality and it stays high into the winter, providing an excellent feed for cows. The steps to stockpiling are simple. About the first of September, have the pastures grazed or clipped to remove all of the mature summer forage. Apply 60 units of nitrogen per acre after the fall rains begin and then allow the fescue to grow as long as possible, even up to a killing frost. Ammonium nitrate is the best nitrogen source to use. If possible, rotationally graze the fescue so that less of the forage is trampled and wasted. Even though the nitrogen expense is significant, it is still quite a bit less expensive than having to feed hay for the extra 60 days.

(2) Reduce hay storage losses. One of the best ways to make hay inventory last longer is by wasting less of the hay. Most people would agree that a 5x5 bale that sits outside during the winter will have approximately six inches of rotted forage around the outside. But most people do not realize that this six inches of loss is 30 percent of the bale. This is the same thing as taking every third bale out of the field and throwing it into the ditch, because no value is coming from it. If bales are stored inside or off the ground and covered, the hay supplies go farther because less hay will be lost due to rotting.

If possible, store hay inside a barn. This will do the best job at protecting the hay from the elements. If barn space is not available, get the hay off the ground by putting it on crushed stone, tires, poles, etc. As much hay is lost because of water taken up from the bottom of the bale as from rain damage. The next step is to cover the bales with some sort of plastic. Several types of hay tarps are available and have been shown to be relatively durable and effective. Be sure to tie the tarps down securely. One of the best ways to do this is by laying ropes down and placing the bales on top of the ropes. These ropes can then be used to anchor the tarps. Be sure to not completely cover the ends of the hay stacks. If there is not any air movement up and down the stack under the tarp, there could be a significant amount of mold development on the hay.

(3) Forage test hay. In order to be efficient with a winter hay feeding program, test hay to learn the protein and energy level. Without this information, there is no way to know whether your cow's diet will be sufficient to meet her needs. Don't assume that all bales are equal. Different cuttings of hay will be of different quality depending on when they were cut, how much fertilizer was applied, the curing conditions, etc. Don't sample every bale; a representative sample from each different cutting will provide valuable information. The University of Tennessee Forage Testing Laboratory can provide the moisture, fiber, protein and TDN content of your hay. The cost is $10 per sample. Your local Extension agent will be able to provide help in this area.

(4) Control weeds with late fall herbicide application. Buttercup and musk thistle are weeds that are easy to kill if sprayed in a timely manner. Most of the time we think about spraying these weeds in the spring. However, both of these plants germinate from seed in the fall, grow during the winter and early spring, and then bloom in late spring and early summer. A late November or December spray can eliminate these weeds from a pasture. Use 2 pints per acre of 2,4 D ester after three days with about 60 F for the high. This temperature will stimulate the weeds to grow, and the chemical will be more effective. By this time of the year, most of the seed germination will have already occurred. The good part of this procedure is that the residual action of the 2,4 D will be gone by the time clovers need to be seeded in late February. Be sure to read and follow all label instructions.

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