Farmers should avoid overgrazing, check forage inventories
—Amanda Gee, Purdue University Extension
Drier weather in the last month has led to slow growth of forages in parts of the Midwest, meaning livestock producers need to double check their forage supplies for the rest of the season now, a Purdue Extension forage specialist says.
Last year producers saw drier weather at the start of the season with timely rains beginning in August. This year, the soil was moist in the spring with dry weather later in the season. As of Thursday (Sept. 12), the U.S. Drought Monitor rated portions of 11 counties in northwestern Indiana in the moderate drought category and much of the northern half of the state was listed as abnormally dry - a drought-watch category.
"There are many regions that did not get the amount of moisture in August and early September needed to keep forage production moving forward," Keith Johnson said. "We shouldn't be overgrazing pastures that aren't growing well because of the lack of moisture.
"If pastures are grazed too aggressively this fall, there will be less forage available in the spring."
Cool-season grasses such as timothy, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and orchardgrass should be accumulating new growth now as cooler temperatures occur and will produce tillers in the fall that initiate new growth in the spring. The late-summer growth that typically occurs has been deterred by hot conditions and lack of rain during this period.
Along with avoiding overgrazing, Johnson recommended that farmers know what they have in inventory to evaluate if they have sufficient forage supplies to get through the late fall and winter.
Farmers who think they will be short on forages going into winter have many options for supplementing current supplies.
"If forages are insufficient, producers should find additional or alternative feed sources, or reduce the number of mouths to feed," Johnson said. "First, I would have them think about whether corn residue grazing or feeding harvested corn residues is a possibility in their livestock operation."
Farmers should also start contacting other producers who might have a forage surplus and consider supplementing with byproduct feeds that work with the quality of forage being fed.
"Lastly, I would say if there happens to be late planted corn and grain production is going to be heavily sacrificed, producers could consider making corn silage," Johnson said.
Farmers with cornfields under severe drought stress should check with their crop insurance representative before silage harvest occurs.
See state snapshots of the U.S. Drought Monitor at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/.