Monday, July 8, 2013

Preparation for Cool-Season Pasture Development


Winter peas and ryegrass mixed pasture
Developing cool-season pastures is crucial for sustainable pasture-based livestock production. This is because feeding costs account for more than 50 percent of the variable costs required for livestock operations. If no cool-season forages are included in pastures, there will not be much forage available for grazing from October to April (in the situation of most part of Alabama). This situation compels producers to procure hay, agricultural byproducts, or commercially prepared feeds to feed their livestock for around seven months each year, and sacrifice possible profits they would make otherwise (if there were productive, cool-season pastures and no requirements for buying feeds). It is always cheaper to develop a productive pastures and let the animals harvest by themselves than purchasing hay and other feedstuffs and manually feeding the animals.

Ryegrass and crimson clover mixed pasture

Important Steps for Developing Cool-Season Pastures

1. Soil test is necessary to know the requirements for lime and fertilizer applications. For fall planting, soil samples should be tested in June or earlier. For further detail about the soil test, contact your local county agents.

2. Weed control. Weeds should be controlled very well before applying lime or fertilizers and planting seeds. Further information about weed control is available at this link:, make sure to type 'weed' in the 'reset' button and search.

3. Apply lime based on soil test recommendations. Generally, lime has to be applied 3-6 months prior to scheduled planting date so that soil pH is adjusted by the time of planting.

4. Select forage species based on pasture soil, climatic condition of the location, and livestock species. Here are few examples of cool-season grasses: annual ryegrass, tall fescue (MaxQ tall fescue does not have toxic endophyte), orchard grass, small grains (wheat, oats, barley, triticale); cool-season legumes: white clover, crimson clover, red clover, arrowleaf clover, beseem clover, hairy vetch, common vetch, bigflower vetch, winter peas, alfalfa, and birdsfoot trefoil; cool-season forbs: chicory, brassica - rape, kale, and turnip. All legumes must be inoculated with specific inoculant just before planting while planting them in the new fields. If you need help on which forages to plant this season, please contact your local county agents, forage specialists, or livestock specialists.

5. Procure selected quality forage seed from the trusted source and fertilizers based on soil test recommendations.

6. Plant selected forages on time. Most of the winter forages are planted in September or early October. Apply phosphorus and potassium fertilizer (as recommended based on the soil test) few weeks before planting. Nitrogen fertilizer is needed only for non-leguminous crops (grasses). It should be applied in divided doses since it is the least stable fertilizer. Plants need nitrogen for photosynthesis and green leafy growth. So, its application is effective when grasses (not mixed with legumes) are in active vegetative growth (at the beginning and after each harvest).


Grazing Management

Follow an appropriate grazing management plan once the planted forages are well established.  It is very useful to attend 'Grazing Management Training' sessions, read relevant educational materials, and consult county agents and/or livestock specialists for developing a sustainable grazing management plan and implement it properly.

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