warm-season pasture

Experts say establishing a warm-season pasture has challenges as cattle producers are looking for options to stretch the grazing season.

Cattle producers looking to stretch out the grazing season might want to consider warm-season pastures.

Establishing exclusively warm- season pastures can be a challenge, says Tim Schnakenberg, Extension agronomist with the University of Missouri. But, he says, interseeding warm-season grasses into existing cool-season pastures often fails to boost that pasture’s production.

“I think you really want separate paddocks for warm- and cool-season grasses,” Schnakenberg says. “You see more integration of the grasses in the south, but in the Midwest it works better to keep them separate.”

He says in most cases, native grasses such as switchgrass, big bluestem, Eastern gamagrass or Indian grass are used. In more temperate climates such as southern Missouri, Schnakenberg says Bermuda grass could be used successfully.

“South of Interstate 70, Bermuda grass works well, but north of I-70 you want to use those native grasses,” he says.

Seed will be more expensive and more challenging to establish, adds Bruce Anderson, Extension forage specialist with the University of Nebraska. He says warm-season grass seed is usually more delicate than brome or other cool-season seed.

Anderson recommends seeding just ahead of corn planting, but adds seeding can be done almost any time through late fall, when the ground temperatures begin to fall.

“Seed really should be drilled,” he says. “It does not lend itself to broadcasting. You are also going to want a very firm seed bed.”

Anderson says switchgrass seed is generally the least expensive.

“You have to watch it because it gets stemmy earlier than the other native grasses,” he says.

Anderson says research has shown a mixture of big bluestem and Indian grass works well. He says non-native species such as sand lovegrass and sideoats grama grass also works well in warm-season pastures.

“It’s good in a mixture and it establishes quickly,” Anderson says. “Both work well in less fertile soils, too.”

Schnakenberg says if soil temperatures are warm enough, germination should occur quickly, but there won’t be massive growth the first year.

“You see a fair amount of dormancy, so don’t expect every seed to germinate that first year,” he says.

He suggests checking soil quality before seeding to make sure pH, phosphorus and potassium levels are adequate. He also recommends waiting for the stand to become established before adding nitrogen.

“If you do it early, you are more likely to stimulate weed growth, and you don’t want that,” he says.

Schnakenberg says grazing the first year is possible with adequate precipitation. He says crab grass should definitely be available for grazing, with Bermuda grass and the native grasses ready by late summer.

“You really want to baby those pastures that first year, and you don’t want to graze them down to the point where they may not survive the winter,” he says.

Anderson says grazing should be possible through at least mid-August if not longer.

“Your stocking rate is really going to determine how long you can graze it,” he says.

Stockpiling is of little benefit on warm-season pastures, Anderson says. Forage quality will be considerably lower than stockpiled cool-season pastures.

Schnakenberg says like any pasture, warm-season grasses may need to be clipped.

“You probably don’t want to use a herbicide early on, so coming and clipping and baling the pasture would be beneficial,” he says. “Like I said, you really need to baby it that first year.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.