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Autumn Colors Return as Fall Season Begins

PATTY DYER, DISTRICT CONSERVATIONIST

As green leaves turn to bright fall colors and the green grass of spring has been replaced with brown grass from the recent dry weather, I am again reminded that the seasons in Ohio each have their own characteristics. We will soon be affected by the mud and snow of winter.

The efficiency of the utilization of our fall forages and stockpiled winter forages may become dependent on how solid the soil is under those forages. Careful monitoring and frequent movement of the livestock will help to stay ahead of the mud and limit the waste from trampling soils that are too wet.

Autumn colors can mean more than the changing leaves. This is a good time to really look at your fields. Are they a nice uniform mid to dark green in color? This would indicate good fertility and a uniform utilization of those forages. Are there brown spots, bare spots, rough and uneven growth areas, light green to yellow areas in your fields? Look closer to see what is in those areas. Has the good quality forage been grazed too closely so that there is little cover there, or is that frosted weeds have turned brown? Perhaps the brown is from dry weather on forages that have been grazed a little too close to the ground. Is that rough uneven growth, overgrown fescue, iron weeds, Canada thistle, or yellow nut sedge? Maybe it is just some clover around a pile of manure.

Take some time now to evaluate the results of your summer grazing program and adjust your management for the fall and winter to utilize the forages you have available. Some of that rough uneven growth that is truly fescue that the livestock would not graze in the hot weather will become quite attractive to the livestock, given the chance this fall and winter.

Find those areas that have thin vegetation that are high and dry. Set out some round bales of hay in those areas, this winter, to be utilized where the waste hay and manure can be utilized to build up the fertility. Consider setting some round bales along a fence line on the upper side of a slope, while the weather is relatively good. Protect these bales with one or two strands of electric fence for now. When you are ready to feed this winter instead of rutting up the fields by hauling the hay, you can open the fence, cut the string or net wrap, and roll the bales out to the livestock. Moving round bale feeders to the pre set hay bales is also a good option for feeding in the field and can help minimize the amount of hay that is wasted. This will help minimize feeding time by already having the hay distributed to areas where you want to feed it, and will limit traffic through the fields during the wettest weather. This will also facilitate the movement of livestock through the fields for as long as possible and will keep the heavy use areas clean until they are really needed.

By moving the feeding areas around as long as possibly to utilize stockpiled forages and the areas where hay can be fed in the field, the majority of the manure and waste hay can be spread by the livestock and immediately recycled into the soil. This will help improve the fertility of the pasture fields and greatly limit the time spent hauling manure in the spring. This will also keep the areas around the barns and areas to be used for late winter and early spring feeding in good shape until they are needed.

If you do not have a heavy use pad (either a concrete or geo-textile and stone area) to feed your livestock on and you really think you need one, you still have time to get one installed before we get into the really wet and messy weather of mid winter or early spring. If you have an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program) contract that includes one of these pads that you haven't yet installed, contact your local office to get your plans and get started as soon as possible. If you would like someone to evaluate a site for the installation of one of these pads call your local Soil and Water Conservation District office and schedule someone to look at your site. They can advise you on location, size and proper construction of this practice. They can also discuss the possibility of cost share funds for the installation of this project with a future contract if it is eligible.

As autumn colors turn from bright reds, yellows and greens to tans and white, it is refreshing to see healthy livestock still enjoying green grass on a hill side pasture as they are rotated through a grazing system. By supplementing a little hay before the stockpiled forages are gone you will be able to extend the grazing season and continue to rotate well into the winter months. Just remember to keep an eye on the soils so that the forages aren't trampled into a muddy bog before moving the livestock to a fresh pasture. It is better to move while there is still forage left in the field and come back again later in the season than to damage the stand by grazing longer than the soils will support the animals.

As I mentioned before, continuing the rotation through the winter months has many advantages. The stock piled forages are a more economical feed than mechanically harvested feeds. The rotation helps keep the livestock clean and reduces possible herd health problems. The rotation also allows the animals to spread the manure rather than concentrating it in a single area. These nutrients can be utilized by the plants growing in those fields and eliminates the need to mechanically spread the same nutrients. Enjoy the fall colors.