After last year’s drought and forage shortage, this year’s grazing season has been a big change of pace, with most areas seeing abundant rainfall and forage growth.
Valerie Tate, a University of Missouri Extension agronomist, says there has been a lot of growth in pastures this year.
“In north central Missouri we’ve had plenty of moisture,” she says. “We’ve seen plenty of growth on our cool season grasses.”
Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension educator in commercial agriculture, says there have been differences in forage production and quality.
“A word that was heard a lot this year, whether it’s pastures or row crops, is variability,” Meteer says.
He says there is some variety based on how pastures were managed, but a lot of it comes down to weather conditions.
“We do have some very nice forage growing due to abundant rainfall,” Meteer says. “Fescue is kind of starting its second boost, it’s second growth here in the fall.”
One concern has been weeds in pastures.
“We do see quite a few weeds in these pastures, and that’s a result of the drought last year and overgrazing,” Tate says.
She says annual ragweed is one of the concerns, and producers may need to take control measures next spring.
Meteer says he has seen weed pressure in many pastures in his area due in part to overgrazing.
“Anything that opens the stand up is going to allow weeds to come through,” he says.
There are a variety of ways to address weeds in pastures.
“It’s really hard to spray yourself out of a pasture weed scenario,” Meteer says. “You want to manage for what you want, and not manage for what you do not want. At some point, we have to allow these pastures to rest, allow the plants we want to grow there to develop roots.”
Meteer says fall is usually a good time for cool season grasses to “get their feet under them,” when they get some rest. The timing is also right for some form of weed control, whether it’s a herbicide application or mowing off weeds.
Tate says the length of the fall grazing season will depend on management.
“It’s going to depend on how aggressively they grazed it during the summer,” she says.
Some producers opt to rest certain pastures from August through October, and then graze in the late fall or into the winter.
“Deferred grazing is kind of an old term that’s been used for that,” Tate says.
Cool-season grasses thrive in the temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees, Tate says.
“As the nighttime temperatures start to decline, it’ll slow down that growth,” she says.
Meteer says he likes the plan of stockpiling fescue and saving it for later grazing.
“My preference is always to stockpile fescue in the fall if there’s the opportunity to get cattle off summer annuals to cornfield stalks, or even feed some hay, just to allow that fescue to rest and grow,” he says.
“After that first frost, the sugars really release themselves in the fescue, and the cows love it. It can be some really good late-fall grazing.”
Meteer says the endophyte in some older varieties of fescue that can cause reduced blood flow is less of an issue in the fall compared to other times of year.
“That symptom with cool, late-fall weather doesn’t have any performance effects for the cows,” he says.
Overall, Tate says the forage situation is pretty good heading into the rest of fall and winter.
“We had some summer growth as well as fall growth, so we’re sitting pretty good on winter forage here in north central Missouri,” she says.
It’s been a year of rain for much of the Midwest, which has affected quantity and quality.
“We are definitely above average on our precipitation this year,” Tate says.
Tate says with the variety in forage quality, it’s a good idea to get a hay test to see what producers might need to supplement to meet nutritional needs of crude protein and energy.
Meteer says some producers have been putting up cover crop hay, but any type of hay could benefit from being tested.
“One thing I’d recommend, whether it’s grass hay or cover crop hay, get a nutrient analysis done,” he says.