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September Is Pasture Improvement Month

The hot and dry daysof September are upon us. Spring born calves are about to reach weaning and thejob will be done – right?...Wrong. There are still some details that needtending to. Before I discuss the usual business, let’s reflect back on anunusual 12 months. We have been in the middle of a severe drought and most ofus were caught without a drought plan. Mississippi State University ExtensionService has developed a quick reference for dealing with drought. It can befound on their website  Hay will be in short supply this winter. Cattlemen will need to stretch everybale by allocating hay and supplemental feed to match animal requirements. Thismay not be the year to self feed hay. Hay rings will pay for themselves in theamount of hay saved. Forage testing should be high on your priority list inorder to balance supplementation with your hay. If you have excess or need hay,a hay directory is located on the same web site. Be careful when purchasinghay. Some CRP land and abandon fields were baled. This may not be the best hayto feed cattle especially if they are lactating.

Spend some time thismonth evaluating your grazing program. Subdividing pastures lead to moreefficient grazing. Returns per acre will increase when forages are managed to astubble height of an average of four inches and livestock are rotated from onepasture to another. Start with a two pasture system, then graduate up to athree or four pasture system and then up from there. To determine how manypaddocks you need divide the days of rest by the days of grazing then add one.  For example, rest 28 days/graze 4 days + 1 = 8.  Bermudagrassand bahiagrass usually require 28 to 40 days rest depending on moisture andfertility. The faster the growth, the shorter the rest period. Maximumutilization occurs when rest periods are cut to 14 days or less. This type offast rotation is more profitable; however, profits may be offset by higherlabor requirements.

 Many acres will beplanted to winter grazing crops this year. Ryegrass will most likely be the crop of choice.  Consider adding a bushel of wheat or oat seedper acre to 20-30 lbs of ryegrass seed. Wheat and oats will germinate quickly and provide early fallgrazing.  This early grazing, whenmanaged, can make huge differences and offset winter feeding costsignificantly.  Very early growth can becreep grazed by calves while there mamas graze stock pilled Bermudaor bahiagrass.  Another alternative is to limit graze early growth byturning the herd in for short periods (one to 6 hours) and then pullingoff.  Cattle can usually graze to fill inan hour if adequate forage is available. As forage becomes more available, the grazing period can be extended. 

Scout pasture forsigns of over grazing and seeding damage caused by disease and insects.  Make a note of annual and perennial weeds anddisease infestation on part or all of the grazing area. Your conservationdistrict may have a pasture sprayer for rent. September is not the best time tocontrol weeds in pastures; however, carpet grass, centipede and otherundesirable stands of grasses can be set back or killed with glyphosate inpreparation for pasture and hayland planting the following year.  Cool season crops can be grown on thesepastures until spring planting of perennial forages can be achieved. Plantingon the contour will reduce erosion. Plan next years weed control programaccording to this years notes. Insects tend to feedheavily on early planted forages. Diseases, such as blast, can show up on earlyryegrass, but will not affect small grains. This is another good reason toplant a ryegrass small grain mix.

Clovers and otherlegumes should be planted with winter forages and over seeded into establishedpastures. They may provide up to 200 lbs of nitrogen per acre after they havebeen established for six months or greater. With the cost of nitrogen fertilizer projected this fall to be $0.50+ perlb, clover will be a very good alternative for next spring’s flush of perennialgrowth.  The cost of clover seed isgenerally $3 to $4/lb.  At 3 to 5lbs/acre the returns from clover stands greatly offset the cost of establishment.  Clover may be established in many ways. Seed can be broadcast on the surface; they may be roughed in using adisk or other implement that barely scratches the soil surface to provide goodseed to soil contact. Plan on setting back perennial growth about 50 to 60 percentfor best results.  Your conservationdistricts may have no till planters with clover seed attachments that allow forexcellent establishment.  Districts have aeratorsthat do a good job in disturbing stands of perennial forages to allow for goodsoil to seed contact and provide less competition for emergence of cool seasonplants. All clover seed should be inoculated with the proper Rhizobium bacteriaif seed has not already pre-coated. 

Due to expected fallrainfall, this month will be the last chance to repair heavy use protectionareas. These areas should be reshaped before winter rains set in.

Conditions should befeasible for renovating ponds. Spillways, embankments, and general renovationcan increase the life of farm ponds.  All troughs and tanks require cleaning of mudand dead plant parts that can accumulate, reduce water consumption, and causewatering facilities not to function properly. Check float valves and remember that the ball in the ball type waterersshould never fit flush to the sideof the hole in the tank.

As always contactyour local NRCS office to see what your soil and water conservation district hasin store for you.



Contributed by:  Walter Jackson, NRCS StateGrazing Land Specialist