August rains and milder temperatures have given pastures a boost this summer in many parts of the Midwest, even as some areas still face drier conditions. Hay crops have been abundant in the areas that have received plenty of rainfall, although there are some quality concerns.
Valerie Tate, a University of Missouri Extension agronomist based in Linn County, in north central Missouri, says it has been a good summer for forage growth in her area.
“We’ve had abundant moisture this summer, so our pastures have been really producing a lot of forage,” she says. “We’ve had modest temperatures, so we’ve gotten a lot of grazing out of our cool season grasses.”
Tate says some areas have seen drier conditions. According to weekly U.S. Drought Monitor maps, parts of southern and western Missouri have experienced drought conditions, and much of western Iowa has dealt with severe drought conditions this summer.
Chris Clark, an Iowa State University Extension beef specialist who covers several counties in southern and central Iowa, says there are a mix of pasture conditions there.
“Down in my more southern counties, they’re probably in pretty good shape,” he says. “Throughout most of the growing season they’ve had pretty good rains.”
Clark says parts of west central Iowa have seen extreme and severe drought.
“I’ve driven through a few of the areas where it’s most severe, and those pastures are in really bad shape,” he says.
Gene Schmitz, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist based in Pettis County, in west central Missouri, says pastures in his area were just starting to show drought stress in July when regular rains recharged them.
“We’ve been getting some moisture,” he says. “In general they were starting to show some signs of overgrazing and some drought stress. … We’ve got enough rain that it really turned things around.”
Tate says many producers are looking ahead to fall grazing and stockpiling.
“If they want to stockpile tall fescue for fall grazing, now (mid-to-late August) is the time for nitrogen applications,” she says.
After applying nitrogen, producers should wait till the grass has stopped growing to begin grazing it, likely in late November or early December.
Schmitz says waiting to graze fescue pastures that have had a nitrogen application also gives time for endophyte toxin levels to decline.
“As we increase the nitrogen, we are also increasing the endophyte toxins that will be in the new growth we get,” he says. “I’d recommend a producer wait until early to mid November anyway.”
Schmitz says when pastures are dry or have been struggling, apply 30-40 pounds of nitrogen per acre. When pastures have received good moisture, producers might want to apply more like 60-70 pounds per acre.
When it comes to grazing stockpiled forage, Tate says producers can go with a strip grazing approach rather than a more management-intensive rotational grazing plan. Cattle can have access to a little more grass at a time, but it is still good not to give them access to too much at once to cut down on trampling and wasting of forage. Tate says producers should avoid grazing too late into the year, which can limit future growth.