Mixing Up Your Grazing Adding New Forages to Existing Pasture

A photo of cattle grazing bahiagrass that has been interseeded with perennial peanut in Florida. ( Miguel Castillo, North Carolina State University )

Baling hay during the summer and feeding it during the winter is a pretty common task for cattle producers. However, it doesn’t have to be that way for those who live in the Southeast. 

Putting in different varieties of grasses and legumes into existing stands of forages has the potential to significantly reduce the need or even eliminate feeding hay in the winter. 

In his conversations with cattle producers, John Jennings, professor and forage specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, has found that many don’t think they have the time to plant new forages and properly manage them. 

A survey of cattlemen in Arkansas revealed that they were actually spending a significant amount of time dealing with hay. In the summer producers averaged more than 200 hours baling hay and in the winter they averaged more than 200 hours feeding hay. 

“Growing a pasture crop takes exactly the same management as growing that hay crop, but you plan it for each season of the year,” Jennings says. 

Cattle grazing on Bermudagrass pasture during the summer in Alabama.

Bermudagrass and bahiagrass are two of the predominate forages in the Southeast that are grazed and baled in the summer. 

Bermudagrass is often described as a “king of warm season forages,” says Kim Mullenix, assistant professor and beef cattle production systems specialist at University of Auburn Extension. For areas of the country with more heat, Bermudagrass can be a reliable option once established. 

Bahiagrass follows a similar trend to Bermudagrass, Mullenix says. There is a spring flush of growth and it continues being active throughout the summer and quality drops off in the fall. 

When looking into adjusting your grazing program Jennings advises producers to “always plan at least one season ahead.” 

Cattle that have just been moved onto a pasture of stockpiled Bermudagrass in Arkansas.

An easy entry point into using less hay is stockpiling grass. This can be achieved by fertilizing fields in late summer and deferring grazing until fall to let the forage accumulate. The stockpiled forage serves as a great way to cut out hay feeding into late fall and early winter.

Summer annuals can be grazed in the fall, too. Sorghum-Sudan, millet and corn can all provide a significant amount of dry matter yield per acre. Jennings says summer annuals could work nice to fill a gap during the fall when winter annuals haven’t reached grazing height.

Summer annuals do have some toxicity issues that need to be observed. Jennings cautions that nitrate levels should be watched for in sorghum-Sudan, millet and corn, while prussic acid is a concern in sorghum-Sudan.

Planting winter annuals in the fall like winter wheat or ryegrass can provide grazing during the winter and early spring. Winter annuals may also be planted in late winter, but it might not be ready to graze until late spring. Research by University of Arkansas suggests that winter tolerant ryegrass or oat would be the best fit when planting late. 

Bermudagrass that has been interseeded with alfalfa.

Interseeding legumes like clover and alfalfa has some potential to extend the grazing season and increase the quality of the feed value.  

“This is certainly something that is a little bit challenging, but it’s worthwhile to talk about because we can see improved animal performance when we have those legumes incorporated into the system,” Mullenix says. 

Rhizoma peanut, also referred to as perennial peanut, is a vegetative version of its well-known cousin. The legume is expensive to plant on its own, but it can be integrated into established warm season grasses successfully to improve the forage-base. 

A study from the University of Florida found that grazing stockers on a mixture of bahiagrass with rhizoma peanut in the summer yielded nearly 150 lb. more gain per acre versus straight bahiagrass. The bahiagrass rhizome peanut stockers gained about 1.75 lb. per day compared to 1.2 lb. per day for the bahiagrass only cattle. 

Mullenix says that adding legumes not only helps with improving quality, it also improves the amount of consumption by cattle. Several studies have showed that mixing alfalfa into Bermudagrass or fescue pastures helps improve the amount of forage intake. 

There are a number of different forages that might fit better in different in environments. Both Jennings and Mullenix suggest cattle producers who are interested in mixing more forages into their grazing program to work with a local Extension specialist. 

For areas of the country where year-round grazing can’t be achieved easily, haying might be necessary. To get some tips on baling hay this year watch a few videos from Purdue Extension at www.Drovers.com/Haying-Season

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