Cows in pasture

Abundant spring moisture has led to a lot of forage growth in pastures. 

After a spring of volatile weather conditions and prolonged cool temperatures, many farmers and ranchers across Missouri worried about damage to already stressed pasture stands and further depletion of hay supplies.

For the most part, however, those fears have been put to rest.

State Climatologist Pat Guinan reported that although frequent rains during June presented challenges for crop planting and forage harvests, the Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service put pasture conditions in Missouri at 56% good, while the majority of the state’s stock water supplies are reported to be in adequate to surplus condition.

Additional good news for Missouri livestock producers finds hay supplies to be adequate at 67%.

These statistics are year-to-date grazing improvements that Natural Resources Conservation Service lead resource conservationist Mark Green says he is seeing first-hand.

“I have been a part of grazing schools in both northwest and southwest Missouri this year, and everywhere I have been there has been ample grass,” he says.

“One grazing school attendee commented that if someone is out of pasture right now, it is because their pasture is overstocked, not because there isn’t enough grass.”

In the densely cattle-populated region of Lawrence County, Stotts City cattle producers Dustin and Scynthia Schnake are seeing grazing condition improvements on their own cow-calf operation and enjoying the benefits of abundant grass and forage supplies.

“Right now we are in perfect shape in our pastures. The grass is green and still growing with quite a bit of clover intermixed,” Scynthia says. “Our cows are in excellent condition, definitely better than what we normally see this time of year.”

In the northwest corner of the state, Nodaway County cattle producer Chance Clement says his summer pastures have fared extremely well. Clement says currently both water quality and quantity is the best it has ever been in his pastures, and while his haying operations were delayed, overall tonnage is definitely up.

“When I finally got a chance to put up hay this year, it was really, really good — we just couldn’t get in as early as we should have,” he says. “But we had one 15-acre pasture that made 82 full-size bales. Our alfalfa has been averaging between 3 and 4 tons to the acre, too.”

Green cites the cooler temperatures and rainfall in May and June as key factors in the optimal growing conditions for brome and other forages.

“Early on, it really looked like the hay would be all stem, but because of the extra rain, we did end up having a lot of growth underneath. There is just a lot of forage out there this year,” he says. “And these lower temperatures (in May and June) have really helped to make that happen”

Green does caution that while quantity is certainly a benefit in rebuilding the non-existent hay reserve throughout the state, late and rain-compromised harvests have negatively impacted the quality of 2019 hay.

He urges all livestock producers to test forages to gain a better understanding of feed-out value and supplementation needs.

While favorable weather in 2019 has helped Missouri’s livestock producers to recover from the widespread effects of the 2018 drought, management remains the key to efficient long-term pasture and forage production.

For Clement, putting marginal crop acres back into pasture and forage production and more efficiently managing those acres has been effective for his operation.

“Last year I sowed 50 acres back to pasture. This year I sowed another 28,” he says, “I grid sample all of my hay ground because I feel like it pays off, and I put a lot of phosphorus and potash on my pastures. If you manage the nutrients, you can get as much as that ground will produce.”