Things to consider for spring forage management

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Spring can be one of the busiest and most important seasons in terms of determining this year’s plans for sustainable and profitable production. Following are important tips for spring forage management for both hay and pasture.

Check forage plants
It is very important to determine if any winter injury occurred to the forage plants during the winter. If there was severe winter injury or kill in forage plants, it will be necessary to reseed or frost-seed into the existing vegetation. Otherwise. there will be serious weed invasions in the winter-killed areas resulting in low forage yield and quality. If frost-seeding is needed, it’s important to remove the dead materials to have better seed and soil contact.

Apply nitrogen fertilizer to grasses at green-up
Since spring growth can be almost two-thirds of the whole year’s production, it’s necessary to fertilize with nitrogen ranging from 50 to 75 lbs. N/acre for both hay and pastures. One of the mistakes in fertilizing forages in springtime is that some producers apply the whole year’s nitrogen rate in spring rather than doing split applications. Applying too much nitrogen results in nitrogen loss through volatilization, surface runoff, leaching and even denitrification (nitrogen losses in anaerobic condition such as very wet or standing water conditions). Apply nitrogen at the above rate to grass/legume mixtures only if legumes are less than 40% of the mix.

Soil sample for soil nutrient analyses
When people were asked how often they take soil samples or when the last time soil sampling was, their answers were, on average, every five years or more. Without knowing your current soil nutrient levels, it’s impossible to expect a decent forage yield and even quality. In particular, having an optimum soil pH ranging from 6 to 7 is very critical to have high yield and quality of forages. If soil pH is not in this optimum range, fertilizers, including micro-nutrients, will not work properly. Alfalfa needs a higher soil pH range (i.e., between 6.5 and 7.0) than other grasses and legumes.

Start to graze when plant heights are six to eight inches
If you have a rotational grazing system for your pasture, don’t wait until plant height is 12 - 14 inches. Rather, start to graze when plant height is 6 to 8 inches. The rationale behind this is that if you start to graze when plant height is 12 - 14 inches, plants being grazed in later paddocks will be over-mature, resulting in poor quality and lower feed intake by livestock due to increased undigestible lignin in the plants. These poorly ungrazed portions will also affect future grazing cycles during the growing seasons.

Save areas for emergency
As we all know, it’s hard to predict what each year’s weather will be. To reduce this risk, it is a wise practice to have a contingency plan. If you have a pasture or field available that may need renovating, it may be a good idea to plant summer annuals (i.e., sorghum-sudangrass, forage brassicas, or millets).

Source: Doo-Hong Min, Michigan State University Extension



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