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What did the Drought do to my Calving Season?

Memories of the fall of 2016 and its impacts on pasture availability and cow nutritional status are still fresh on most every Alabama cattle producer’s mind.  As fall calving programs move past the breeding season and spring programs focus on this important time, many producers are likely scratching their heads as to what impacts the drought may have on their cowherd’s breeding season success. This is rightly so, as lowered grazing availability likely led to some loss of body condition in many herds, and stand loss may leave some producers without adequate summer forage emergence.

The drought’s effects on your herd’s breeding season can be closely tied to the nutrition you were able to provide your animals to maintain their body condition score (BCS) throughout the calving and breeding season. Cows that calved at BCS lower than five could have experienced poor performance in the breeding season for two reasons:

1. Cows that calve at a BCS lower than five take more time to return to cycling than their BCS 5+ herdmates. Expect thin animals at calving to take an added 20+ days to return to cycling past their appropriately conditioned herdmates.

2.Animals that have a BCS lower than five during the breeding season experience lower pregnancy rates per breeding. Animals of BCS 4 or lower may experience a conception rate 10-30% lower than their BCS 5+ pasture mates.

Follow these two links (link 1, link 2) to learn more about BCS and its impact on pregnancy outcomes in your herd.

These facts are helpful in managing cattle to have a successful breeding season, but if the season has passed and you are questioning exactly what impact the drought had on your operation’s reproductive success, keep this factor in mind:  

You can know the pregnancy status of your herd quickly and economically. It is extremely important to perform annual pregnancy examination in your herd to identify and cull open cows. However if you are resistant to pregnancy check your herd, keep in mind that this year may be the most important year to implement this management practice. If cows became thin during the breeding season and you move forward on “faith alone” until calving time, there is a very high chance that you will experience lower calving rates than you had hoped for or seen in previous years. Pregnancy check cows 60 days after the conclusion of the breeding season or at calf weaning time to gain a true perspective on your herd’s reproductive status. With no pregnancy exam, you may feed open cows for 6-7 months before realizing that there is a problem. Without this information, you cannot manage your herd for profit potential as you look into the near future. Click here to read more about pregnancy exam options and how such knowledge can impact your herd.

Once you know your herd’s pregnancy status, you can make management decisions to increase your profitability outlook. You will also have tools to help you cull appropriate animals if the drought returns.

1. You will know which cows are not doing their job. Regardless of your breeding season existence or length, cows that are not pregnant by the time of traditional  calf weaning are not performing up to par. These animals are keeping you from reaching your profit potential and are consuming resources away from their herdmates. They need to go – even if they may become pregnant after weaning. Keeping such animals will only lower your herd’s overall reproductive performance and slowly suck dollars from you bottom line.

2.You will know what to expect for the upcoming calving season. If the drought led to thin cows at calving and breeding, you may have a higher percentage of late calving animals. Knowing your expected calving distribution will help you divide your manpower at calving time and begin thinking of a plan for calf marketing and how to manage cows to calve earlier in subsequent years.

3. You can combine body condition scoring with pregnancy examination to help identify thin, pregnant cows that may need additional supplementation to improve their condition before calving. Remember, we want cows to calve at a BCS 5-6. Post weaning is the best time to improve condition on thin cows. Evaluate your pasture availability and consider your ability to get weight on thin cows. Keep in mind that cows should gain about 80 pounds to improve one BCS. It is critical to return thin cows to an acceptable BCS before calving to limit the negative impacts of last year’s drought on your herd. If you do not have adequate pasture for such gains, you will need to supplement feed. Thin, pregnant cows with low production records may be a logical culling option if pasture availability is low and you do not have the resources to supplement feed.

If you have a large number of open cows at pregnancy check, you may be faced with hard decisions. There are several options to successfully move past this disheartening news:

1. Evaluate your cowherd. Discover possible reasons for the very low pregnancy rates. What is the herd average BCS? Were many cows of all ages open, or just your 2-3 year olds? What is the bull’s BCS and age? What was your bull:cow ratio? Did the bulls pass a breeding soundness exam before the breeding season?

2.Thin cows can be expected to gain weight at calf weaning if adequate grazing or supplement is available. If calves are still nursing and you are early in the breeding season, consider early weaning to allow cows to gain weight and hopefully avoid the low pregnancy rates we are currently discussing. Follow these two links to learn more about early weaning options (link 1, link 2)

3. If your breeding season is well over, consider the advantages and disadvantages of converting to a spring and fall calving season. In some herds, this management scheme works extremely well. Thin, open cows at this year’s pregnancy check can be moved to the opposite breeding season to reduce culling rates and still maintain a defined calving season. It is important to maintain a strict culling of animals in subsequent years to avoid creating a “reproductively lazy” herd. Using this second breeding season to strategically produce bred cows for sale versus open cull cows is also a viable option.

4.Retain your high standards. If your pasture availability is very low and you need lower stocking rates for your fields to recover, these open cows may be just your ticket. Culling of higher than normal numbers of open cows will lead to an increase in immediate monetary intake while decreasing your stocking rates for the near future as your pasture recovers. Rebuild your herd as your forages recover.

If the drought wreaked havoc on your breeding season, remember that it may take a few years to return to an ideal breeding season length. However, through proper management strategies of correct nutrition, strict culling, and replacing open or late calving animals with early calving heifers or purchased cows you can recover your herd from possible impacts of the 2016 drought.

If you have questions about determining and improving your herd’s reproductive performance, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I – Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Ph.D. Student – Reproductive Physiology / Molecular Genomics

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Pasture Management in the Winter-Spring Transition

The time surrounding spring green-up offers livestock producers an excellent opportunity to manage their pastures for success through the spring and summer months.

To maximize forage production through the summer, producers should take this time to establish and begin implementing a plan to:

1)     Evaluate Pastures for Drought Related Damage

2)     Begin Pasture Renovation if Needed

3)     Control Pasture Weeds

4)     Establish Proper Soil Fertility

5)     Set Up Grazing Systems to Reach Success

Let’s talk first about drought related matters…Did you know that sections of Alabama still remain in extreme drought? Furthermore, the northern counties of East Central Alabama are still in a severe drought as of 02/27/2017. To look up the drought status of your county, click here to go to the Alabama Drought Monitor.

Pasture Evaluation and Renovation:

As we enter the spring green up in drought recovery years, pasture assessment can help producers evaluate the impact of the drought on their summer perennial pastures. NRCS has an excellent system for examining pastures, and their Guide to Pasture Condition Scoring can be viewed here. In brief, once summer perennials emerge, you will want to determine what species are present (is this the type of forage you desire, or have weeds taken over?) and how well the forages cover your pasture (what percentage of the ground is covered by plants and what percentage is left bare?), plus other important factors.

If pastures grade poorly, with low amounts of desired summer grasses emerging after green up, you may need to consider pasture renovation. Here is a quick guideline to use when determining the amount of renovation you may need:

  1. If you get a 70% or greater stand of your summer perennial pasture grasses, your pasture is well on its way to recovering without much help. It should recover quickly with proper grazing strategies, weed control, and desired soil fertility. You will want to take care of this pasture as it emerges. Do not allow animals to graze too early, but you should expect good recovery under correct management.
  2. If a 40-70% stand emerges, pastures should still fully recover with weed control, proper fertility, grazing management, and perhaps a bit more patience. Though forage emergence is lower in stands of 40-70%, there are still adequate tillers underground. Between tillers and seed production, pastures should recover by fall. If these pastures are still thin in the fall, overseeding for winter annuals and/or legumes may prove helpful to keep soil covered and provide grazing through winter.
  3. In pastures with a stand <40%, much patience and effort will be needed for pasture recovery. Proper soil fertility and weed control are still important, but you may also need to re-establish desired forages in such pastures or consider utilizing a summer annual in some scenarios. You may also want to utilize winter annuals and legumes until the pasture has recovered. Click here to see the suggested planting dates for Alabama forages, and be wise if you decide to work towards re-establishing lost stands. Remember that newly planted grass will need adequate moisture and proper care to survive. It may not be a good idea to plant new perennial stands immediately if we remain in drought conditions.

Weed Control:

Weed control is a necessary part of pasture recovery. Weeds will compete with desired forage species for soil nutrients and sunlight. If pastures became bare during the drought, weeds were given an ideal scenario for growth. After this, weeds can smother out our already weakened stands of summer grasses as they attempt to emerge post-winter. There are two types of weed control you can do now:

  1. Winter Weed Control: Winter broadleaf weeds may not seem like much of an issue right now. But as we continue into spring, their presence and growth will overshadow desired summer forages as they attempt to emerge. Furthermore, such weeds are stealing valuable nutrients from the soil. Winter broadleaf weeds can be controlled now in most pastures with the usage of products like Sharpen, 2,4-D, Grazon, and Weedmaster. Make sure to read labels for guidelines, and only use herbicides on pastures when and where such products are labeled for use. If you have questions, contact a member of the Animal Science and Forages team and look up weed control options here.
  2. Summer Weed Control: You can treat summer perennial pastures before emergence with pre-emergent herbicide (Prowl H20). Before spraying pre-emergent, it is important to evaluate pasture emergence. Spraying after summer forages have begun to emerge may set desirable plants back. If you use Prowl H20, it is valuable to know that a supplemental label has been released that will allow you to use Prowl on certain pastures post-emergence, in the growing season, after cutting. See supplemental label here.

Soil Fertility:

Proper soil fertility and pH are necessary for optimum production in all years. However, proper soil conditions following drought are essential for pasture recovery. Take a soil test in all pastures today and correct soil deficiencies to allow pastures the opportunity to succeed. Click here for a more in depth discussion of soil testing.

Proper Grazing Strategies:

As summer forages emerge, it is important to correctly manage and graze recovering pastures. Remind yourself that the green leaves of grass are essential for the plant’s overall health and sustainability. Grass leaves catch sunlight that the plant uses to make energy (plant food). If we graze pastures too low, we greatly reduce the amount of leaf available to catch sunlight. This reduces the ability of the plant to make energy, and leads to slower pasture growth and recovery. Now is the time to set up a grazing system to allow you to rotate animals through pastures. Rotational grazing will allow your animals to better utilize the forage available in each pasture, and will increase forage growth since you keep animals from eating specific areas down too low. Healthier pastures will produce more forage, more quickly-allowing your animals better nutrition.

Now is the time to create and begin implementing a plan to allow your pastures to fully recover from drought! Be proactive by taking the steps above to ensure your success.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Regional Extension Agent I – Animal Science & Forages

Ph.D. Student – Reproductive Physiology/Molecular Biology

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Measures of Herd Performance: Weaning Weight

Cow calf producers know that an increase calf weaning weight usually leads to an increase in calf value at weaning. Let’s discuss some different ways to look at weaning weights that may give us more insight to increase potential herd profitability than simply measuring weight weaned alone.

First, we will look at the “easy” measure of weaning performance…

Pounds Weaned: At the end of the day, cow calf producers sell pounds. A good measure of a cow’s performance lies within the actual and adjusted weaning weights of her calves. Actual weight is quite simple; this is the weight of an individual cow’s calf on the day it was weaned. This value is important to us, as it tells us what weight a cow actually generated to be sold. However, to look deeper into a cow’s potential for weaning heavy calves, we should look at the adjusted weaning weights of her calves. This takes cow age as well as calf age, birthweight, and sex into account, and better allows us to determine a cow’s performance potential. Let’s look at an example:

Once we know our weaning weights, we can take steps to improve these numbers through better genetics and management.  It’s important to realize that that both weaning weight measurements are important. Cows with high adjusted weaning weights have the most potential to wean heavy calves in your herd. On the other hand, the cow that calves early each year and weans the heaviest actual weight at weaning may not have the highest adjusted weaning weight. Her value equally important and is best highlighted through her ability to breed early. To move your operation to the next level you’ll want to seek out individuals excelling for both measurements as they’re likely the combination cows that bring home the most profit for you.

Knowing our herd weaning weights and adjusted weaning weights can be a very beneficial first step to increasing profitability. However, we can learn more about our herd’s productivity if we look past weights alone.

Therefore, it’s important to step back and look at a few additional measures of weaning performance…

Pounds weaned per cow exposed: It’s important to know not only our weaning weights, but also the percentage of our cows that actually wean a calf.  Cows that don’t wean a calf are feed-consuming members of our herd for at least part of the year, so we must account for them when evaluating herd performance. To learn the pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed, we look at both our calf weaning weight data and our herd’s ability to become pregnant and raise a calf to weaning. A good goal for beef herds is to wean 90+% of the potential calf crop. This means that if we had 100 cows, 90 of these cows would become pregnant, birth a live calf, and successfully care for it until weaning. As the percentage calf crop goes down, so does your farm’s pounds weaned per cow exposed and profit potential. Let’s look at another example:

We should also consider our cow weights…

Pounds weaned per pound of cow exposed: Your mature cow weights may be eating into your profitability. A mature cow will generally consume an additional 500-550 pounds of dry matter for every 100 pounds of added bodyweight. As the size of the average US cow increases, we need to account for this additional intake and make sure our bigger females are pulling their weight.  An 1100 pound cow that weaned a 500 pound calf has weaned 46% of her bodyweight, where a 1400 pound cow that weaned a 600 pound calf only weaned 43% of her bodyweight. Look beyond the raw weaning weight and ask yourself which cow is doing a better job. Reproductive performance in larger cows may also decline if their higher nutritional needs are not met; this could reduce your percentage calf crop weaned. Let’s look at a final example:

These are just a few ways to re-consider how you evaluate your herd’s weaning weights to add black ink to your profit equation.

Much of the above information is referenced from the following link. Click here to read more about assessing the efficiency of your beef cows.

If you have questions about calculating your herd’s weaning data or other ways to enhance your program’s profitability, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Drought Management Strategies: Preserving Next Year’s Calf Crop

daisy-hay-cropped

Alabama counties have experienced increased levels of drought throughout this past summer and fall. To successfully survive drought conditions, producers must develop a plan that considers not only the present, but also the future. Developing a plan to preserve next year’s calf crop is a key part of planning for a successful future. This article will explain the nutritional requirements of beef cows for reproduction and explore management strategies to help preserve next year’s calf crop in the current drought situation.

Requirements for Reproductive Success:

Beef cows should be managed to calve at a minimum body condition score (BCS) of 5 to ensure that they have adequate flesh to return to cycling and establish pregnancy. BCS allow producers to estimate the fat stores on their cattle and range from 1 to 9, with 1 being extremely emaciated and 9 being extremely obese. Cows of a BCS 5 will have a good overall appearance, with some fat covering over their spine, ribs, hips, and around their tailhead. As BCS drops below 5, bones become less and less covered by fat and become more visible. Follow this link for more information and helpful pictures for body condition scoring.

Determining your cows’ BCS and managing animals to maintain a BCS ≥5 is essential to ensuring reproductive success. BCS and nutritional status at both calving and during the breeding season affect reproductive success, so it is important to know where your cows are in their production cycle and manage them accordingly.  Cows’ BCS/nutritional status at calving affects the length of time it takes for them to return to cycling after calving, with cows of low nutritional status at calving taking longer to return to cycling post calving. Once the breeding season is entered, low levels of nutrition and BCS<5 cause reduced pregnancy rates. To survive the drought with next year’s calf crop intact, cows must be fed to maintain their BCS.

Cows require different levels of nutrition at different stages of production. Understanding cow nutrient requirements will help producers meet the needs of their cows to maintain a BCS ≥5. Reference this timely information sheet for more information on your cows’ nutritional needs and how to supplement with varied qualities of hay. Recognize that your cows’ needs are the highest in early lactation. This is the time period when we also need cows to return to cycling and become pregnant. Corners should not be cut during this important time period. Furthermore, note that it’s easiest to put weight on cows after weaning. If you currently have thin, dry, pregnant cows it is a good idea to use this time to allow them to gain weight necessary to increase their BCS to 5. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to gain 1 BCS with each 80 lbs of weight gain in mature beef cows.

Pregnancy examination is essential in all years, but is extremely important this winter as we continue or recover from drought. If cows have not been examined for pregnancy, consider having a veterinarian palpate your cows and cull open cows that have weaning age calves. This will allow for added income and less mouths to feed through the winter and early spring.  As you complete this year’s breeding season, pregnancy check your cows. Since resources were limited, there is a chance that BCS dropped too low and more cows than usual may be open at the end of the breeding season. It is essential to identify and cull these individuals.

Additional Strategies in Times of  Drought:

  1. Pay attention to your heifers- 2-year-old heifers nursing their first calves have higher nutritional needs than their mature counterparts since they are still growing. Furthermore, they are often bucked away from feed sources by older animals. It is a good idea to always manage heifers away from the mature cowherd, however in years of drought and limited feedstuffs it may be essential to allowing them to consume the necessary amount of hay/supplement to maintain their BCS for reproductive success.
  2. Consider early weaning of calves- if cows go into calving thin or become extremely poor while nursing young calves, it may be necessary to wean calves early to allow cows to regain the condition needed for reproduction. Calves 90 days and older can be successfully weaned onto free choice long stemmed hay with correct supplementation. Removing calves may help “jump start” cows to return to cycling and will lessen cows’ nutrient requirements so weight can be gained.

By taking care to manage cattle to nutritional levels necessary for pregnancy success, a producer can preserve next year’s calf crop through drought situations.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science and Forages

Drought Strategies and Available Assistance to Livestock Farmers

cattle

Counties in North Eastern Alabama have been dry throughout the summer of 2016. As property owners, commodity farmers, and livestock producers hope for rain, various management strategies and assistance programs may be considered. Livestock producers should use management strategies to stretch available hay and grazing. Hay availability has been of great concern to livestock producers this summer. Because of the lack of rainfall and bouts with armyworms, hay production has been decreased. Furthermore, loss of grazing has increased summer hay demand, with many producers feeding hay at least sometimes this past summer. To better stretch your resources, consider grouping animals to feed hay and supplement appropriately for their varying nutritional needs. For example, cows in peak lactation will consume 2.5-3% of their body weight and require around 60% total digestible nutrients (TDN; e.g. energy) and 12% crude protein (CP), whereas dry, pregnant cows may only need to consume 2% of their bodyweight at 48% TDN and 7% CP. Test your hay for nutrient density, group livestock according to intake requirements, and supplement hay with feeds as needed. You can limit feed hay and meet the remainder of your cows’ nutrient needs by providing supplementation through stored feeds. Contact your county extension office or regional extension agent for help determining hay requirements and proper supplementation for your animals.

While summer perennial grazing will begin to wind down as we move toward the winter season, considerations for winter grazing may be beneficial-especially if we receive some fall rainfall. Planting winter annuals on prepared land or overseeding onto short grazed summer sods can provide grazing in the late fall and winter season. Small grains (oats, wheat, rye), ryegrass, and clovers are excellent species to consider planting alone or as a mixture for winter grazing. Follow this link to view guidelines for planting various forages in Alabama. If you have the ability to stockpile tall fescue into the late fall months, this is another strategy that may help provide grazing if we receive moisture soon.

Animals that are not productive should be sold to reduce the number of animals that will consume your limited resources. Pregnancy check animals at weaning or at the end of your breeding season to identify and cull open animals. Also identify and cull low performing animals and animals with bad eyes, feet, udders, and dispositions. These animals will only consume resources needed by your quality stock, and the income from their sales can increase funds available for purchasing hay or stored feeds.

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides assistance to grazing livestock producers that have lost grazing abilities due to droughty weather. Randolph county is currently listed amongst counties eligible for assistance. If you graze livestock in Randolph county and wish to apply for or learn more about financial assistance for your operation, follow this link to information about the Livestock and Forage Disaster Relief Program or contact your county’s FSA office at 256-357-4655.

If you have questions regarding drought management strategies, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Weed Control in Pasture Systems

pasture banner

Original article published in extension daily. Author: Katie Nichols

It’s no secret that the summers in Alabama are hot and dry. This year is no exception. Yards and pastures are suffering from heat stress.

An Alabama Extension Crop Specialist has recommendations for farmers struggling with weed suppression in pasture systems.

Weed Control in a Drought

Dr. Steve Li said weed control during a drought is typically very difficult.

“Under drought conditions, all plants slow down growth,” he said. “Plants will develop a thick cuticle and metabolism slows down. They will also try to close the stomata during the day to conserve water. After the stomata is closed, there is very little carbon dioxide in the plant and the photosynthetic rate drops significantly.”

Many herbicides target the photosynthetic process, so with a slowed rate of photosynthesis herbicides may not work as well.

Li said in a drought situation, producers should think twice before going to the sprayer.

“Weeds seem to grow in a quick flush after a rain,” Li said. “Instead of wasting a herbicide application on dry weeds, wait until after a rain to apply. You will most likely have healthier weeds to spray.”

It is important to use surfactant and ammonium sulfate during herbicide application. This will assist plant uptake of the herbicide. Consult the herbicide label for manufacturer requirements.

Whether there is rain or no rain, Li said one option for weed control is to mow the pasture. The weeds are still sensitive to leaf blade in any condition. Another option is to utilize irrigation in the pasture and hay field if it is available to you. A quick shower from the irrigation system would have a noticeable impact on plant uptake of herbicides.

When to Spray Perennial Weeds

Most farmers are familiar with perennial weeds causing issues on the farm. Blackberry and dewberry, ironweed, kudzu, passionflower, Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, Cherokee rose, trifoliate orange and unwanted woody brush are good examples of perennial weeds that cause issues in pasture systems.

The most effective time to spray perennial weeds is in late summer and early fall. Later in the season perennial weeds will begin getting into the reproduction stage.

“Typically, plants are more sensitive to stress and herbicides in the reproductive stage as compared to earlier in the season when they are in the vegetative growth stage,” Li said.

Perennial plants will be making photosynthetic products later in the season and move them into reproductive organs. Spraying herbicide at this point in the year allows the herbicides to translocate into the storage organs of the plant along with the carbohydrates, amino acids and other photosynthetic products, giving the herbicide a better chance of killing the plant and prevent regrowth in future.

“In many cases, the storage organs are also reproductive organs,” he said. “If you don’t kill the storage organs, you do not kill the weed. Kudzu root is a classic example. This is one of the major challenges of perennial weed control. Preventing regrowth and continuous control effort are always required for successful perennial weed control.”

Other Considerations Herbicide Applications

Herbicide applications must be timely and carefully calculated. Spray drift is a factor that could cause lots of problems for sensitive row crops like soybean, cotton and vegetables. When spraying drift is a concern, always use large droplets, lower pressure (around 40 PSI), low driving speed (below 10 mph) and low boom height (18-20 inches above canopy) with a boom-type sprayer. Spray only when the wind speed is less than 10 mph and blowing away from the sensitive crop.

It is important to ensure good coverage. When spraying perennial weeds—especially brush-type weeds—the stand can be very thick, so increasing the sprayer output may help push the spray droplets through the dense canopy. If the weed stand is too thick, mowing may be required before applying herbicides.

“Repeated applications for perennial weed control is the key,” Li said. “You may start with 100 weed plants in one field, and after three years you may only have five plants left. If you do not do something to those five plants and turn them loose, they will grow back and multiply quickly.”

It is a constant battle to suppress the weed population. Weed eradication is difficult, but continuously controlling the population is better than the alternative of letting it run rampant in pastures and hay fields. Growing forage or hay and preventing overgrazing are also critical to weed control. Thin forage or hay, large bare ground and overgrazing always lead to future weed problem if there is a lack of weed-crop competition.

More Information

For more information, visit www.aces.edu and look for the Forage team webpage. More information on herbicide applications in row crops can be found here. You can also listen to the Forage Focus webinar in its entirety here.

Overseeding Winter Annuals to Increase the Grazing Season

Agricultural field on which grow the young grass. wheat

Overseeding winter annuals onto dormant summer perennial pastureland is a powerful tool used by producers who desire to extend the number of months spend grazing their livestock. To overseed winter annuals, producers simply broadcast or drill seed into the desired area once summer perennial growth has ended. Correct overseeding practices lead to the availability of winter annuals from late fall through the spring, depending on the forage species/combination of species planted. Common forages utilized in winter grazing systems from overseeding are small grains (oats, wheat, rye), ryegrass, and clovers. These species can be used in combination with each other to increase length of forage availability or to take advantage of the nitrogen fixing attributes of clovers. Overseeding is a fairly simple technique that leads to high benefits, however incorrect procedures for overseeding can lead to failure of winter annual establishment. Let’s review the benefits and practices recommended for successful overseeding:

Benefits of Overseeding:

Overseeding allows producers to lessen the amount of stored feeds necessary for production through the winter. The increased forage availability from winter annuals allow producers to more economically feed their livestock.

If winter annuals are broadcasted onto or drilled into sods (versus planted in prepared plots), pasture land is better able to uphold its integrity when animals graze after wet conditions or in areas that tend to hold water in the winter months.

Winter annuals are high quality forage and provide excellent nutrition to livestock throughout their growing season.

If a legume (such as clover) is used in the winter annual combination, nitrogen availability in the soil is increased. Legumes naturally fix nitrogen and thus increase nitrogen amounts available to companion plants growing with the clover and to plants growing after the clover’s growth ceases.

Techniques for Overseeding:

Overseed winter annuals onto pastureland in good condition for plant growth. Pastures should be well-drained and not subject to flooding on wet winter days. A soil test should be taken, and lime should be properly applied several months before overseeding. Potassium and Phosphorus should be applied while overseeding as directed by your soil test, and Nitrogen should be applied after winter annuals are up to minimize uptake and continued growth from summer forages.  High quality seeds should be used, and legume seeds should be inoculated just before planting.

Pastures should be grazed down closely or clipped/forage removed prior to overseeding. Burning pastures is a less desirable option, due to inconsistency of burn, but is better than overseeding onto a sod with high levels of vegetation.

Disking of seeds into the sod is not a requirement for overseeding certain species in optimal pasture conditions. However, every pasture is different and should be evaluated prior to overseeding to determine if and how much disking is required. Factors that should be evaluated are desired date of planting (disking allows for earlier planting), soil type, species to be overseeded, and forage remaining on sod. If existing forage is not grazed or clipped down, tillage to disrupt current vegetation is necessary. One or two rounds of light disking can be beneficial to overseeding programs, and it is important to note that disking does not damage summer perennial return in subsequent years.

When to Plant:

Winter annuals should be overseeded later than if they were planted on prepared land. Since remaining summer perennials are still intact on many pastures used for overseeding, it is important to overseed after summer plants stop their growth. If overseeding is done too early, summer grasses that continue to grow will overwhelm and outcompete your winter annuals. In central Alabama, it is recommended to overseed winter annuals from October 15-October 30. If earlier planting on sod is desired, summer sod should be very thoroughly disked such that it is destroyed or weakened. In Bermudagrass fields, paraquat may be sprayed on summer pastures to provide an “early frost affect.” In both cases, overseeding can be done 2-3 weeks earlier than in standard conditions.

It is also important to overseed winter annuals by the October 30 cutoff date in central Alabama to allow for the young plants to germinate and be well established before the blunt of winter sets in. Increased survivability during winter frosts are noted in healthy, well established stands. In addition, if small grains are to be planted for utilization in late fall/early winter, adequate time is necessary post planting to allow for grazing availability.

Once winter annuals are ready for grazing, stock areas appropriately such that large, dense areas of winter annuals are not left on pastures. This could reduce summer forage emergence.

Click here to view a document with more facts on overseeding.

If you have questions regarding overseeding techniques or other fall planting guidelines, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Guidelines for Submitting, Interpreting, and Using Soil Tests

countryside landscape

Providing adequate nutrition to one’s animals is a common goal of livestock producers. Without adequate nutrients and minerals, animals are less productive and return less profit. Many producers understand that one cannot simply “make up for” a protein deficiency by providing animals extra energy, and that dollars are lost by over feeding animals past their nutrient requirements for desired production. We have tools available to help us understand the nutrient requirements of our livestock, help develop a ration (feed), and help determine how much of that ration animals should eat.

However, have you ever considered that these basic principles apply to your forages? To achieve maximum performance of one’s forages, a soil test can be performed to determine the nutrients available in your soil. Then, the requirements of the forage you wish to grow are considered, and fertilizer recommendations are reported from the soil test. Producers can then use test results to apply the correct amount of each nutrient in their specific pasture. More forage growth is seen because your forages have the correct amount of the nutrients they require, and less nutrients (and money) are wasted compared to fertilizing fields with a “best guess” mixture and amount that lacks scientific calculations based off your soil.

How to obtain and interpret a soil test:

1: Take Soil Samples:

Soil can vary in nutrient composition depending on its location in the field. Therefore, it is  important that your soil sample contains soil from each part of the field you wish to fertilize. It is recommended that 15-20 uniform samples of soil are collected from your field. These samples should be 4-6 inches deep and collected in a planned pattern to insure all areas are inspected. Place samples in a bucket, mix well, and place 1 pint in a soil collection box. Soil sample boxes, information sheets, and other supplies for soil testing are available from your county Extension office. When mailing your samples, enclose the filled soil boxes, the information sheet, and a check or money order to cover service charges in a cardboard shipping box and mail to the soil testing lab. More details on sample collection and sample submission can be found on Alabama’s soil test website.

2: Interpreting your Soil Sample Report:

In this article we will focus on the Limestone, Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P), and Potassium(K) recommendations from your soil test.

Limestone: Limestone application helps raise the pH of your soil. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and helps you determine how acidic or basic your soil is. Soil with a pH lower than 7 is considered acidic, soil with a pH of 7 is considered neutral, and soil with a pH higher than 7 is considered basic. In general, if pH drops much below 6, it is time to lime your pasture to raise pH. Apply the amount of Limestone recommended to your pasture. For help with Lime calculations, follow this link.

N, P, K: The amount of each nutrient needed by your pasture is listed in your soil test. Amounts will vary, but the goal of applying fertilizer is to purchase a mixture that best allows these recommendations to be met.  If your soil test recommends 60 pounds of N, 40 pounds of P, and 40 pounds of K, you can custom order this mixture or use a pre-mixed fertilizer to meet your soil’s requirements. For more information on how to calculate the amount of fertilizer needed or the fertilizer mix to use, contact your REA or visit a help page by clicking on the chemical fertilizer calculator help page or the organic fertilizer calculator help page.

3: When to fertilize your pasture:

The key to successful fertilizing is to replace nutrients when they are used by the forages growing in your soil. Different management strategies (grazing vs cutting hay) remove nutrients at different rates and require different fertilizing schedules. Links to fertilizing recommendations for various grasses are given on the ACES website. Click here and select your specific forage to view fertilizer recommendations.

If you have questions regarding submitting and using soil tests, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

The Worms Go Marching: Combatting Fall Army Worm Infestations

armyworm header

Many producers vividly remember their encounters with fall army worms. The discovery of large, later stage army worms in one’s pasture quickly leads to tremendous destruction of valuable forage. Producers generally see the damage of these pests in late July/August through early fall.

Mature fall army worm moths lay eggs that hatch after just 2-4 days. Upon hatching, young army worms begin to feed and grow. Army worm growth occurs in stages, with the worms’ capacity for destruction increasing with each growth stage. Army worms reach full size 2-3 weeks after hatching, and will then burrow into the soil for 10-14 days. Afterward, they emerge as mature army worm moths and continue the life cycle.

A key to managing fall army worms is the understanding of their life cycle and growth phases. Shortly after hatching, small worms are far less destructive than their more mature counterparts. Figure 1 demonstrates the amount of damage observed from worms at each growth stage. Notice that the vast majority of damage occurs during the last growth phase (which occurs 2 weeks after their hatching). Scouting for worms before you notice their destruction allows for one to spray and kill the worms while they are small and in earlier, less destructive growth phases. This reduces their negative impacts on one’s pastures and allows for better control of future infestations since the lifecycle is interrupted.

Fall armyworm

Use a sweep net to scan your pastures for worms. Follow the links to view a video or article on proper sweep net usage. Treatment for fall army worms is effective if worms are found early on. If infestation is discovered too late, major destruction may be unavoidable. This is why it is essential to scout for worms BEFORE you notice their impact on your forages. Once discovered, worms can be killed by spraying. Click here for an article that contains suggestions for fall army worm control.

Also, remember to help your fellow producers know if army worms are in your area by reporting occurrences of fall army worms. Click here to view the updated map of army worm infestation in Alabama, and let us know if you have fall army worms.

More information about fall army worms is available at the Alabama Forages Pest Management website in the Fall Armyworm section.

If you have questions regarding managing fall armyworms, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Beef Cow Evaluation Tips for Selective Culling of the Herd

In hot, dry years beef cow evaluation and selective culling of the herd can allow for better management of limited resources and enhance the average production per animal to boost herd productivity in future years.

When resources are abundant and calf prices are high, it is tempting to retain cows that are not pulling their weight in adding to your bottom line. While such animals reduce one’s profitability regardless of scenario, utilizing selective culling to eliminate these individuals is of utmost importance for management of the herd in times when climate fluctuations lead to lowered nutrient availability. By culling low producing individuals, the overall herd size is reduced allowing hay and pasture to be better stretched among remaining animals. Furthermore, income from the marketing of culled animals can be used to purchase hay or feedstuffs for the upcoming winter. The following checklist outlines criteria that should be considered when evaluating the cowherd, and may be of special relevance in low resource availability years when stringent culling is necessary.

  1. Pregnancy Status: Regardless of climate and market reports, cows that do not produce a calf annually reduce profitability and consume resources needed by their productive herdmates. Open cows should be identified and culled following the conclusion of the breeding season. If you do not have a defined breeding season, keep in mind that a cow must conceive within roughly 80 days of calving to maintain a 365-day calving interval. If she’s open for months longer, she’s not earning her keep. Work with a veterinarian to establish dates for pregnancy examination by palpation or ultrasound, or consider utilizing blood samples sent to a diagnostic lab to determine pregnancy status.
  2. Teeth/Eyes/Feet/Udder: Animals with physical limitations may slip through the culling process in high resource availability years. However, animals unable to easily travel and consume available forage are more likely to lose condition and experience reduced productivity than their physically capable herd mates, and animals with poor udder/teat quality may experience calf loss following birth if suckling is prevented. Culling such animals before a fall calving season and the start of winter feeding eliminates candidates for lowered productivity up front, and marketing these animals before rapid weight loss or health decline results in a more desirable final product and higher compensation.
  3. Body Condition Score (BCS): A BCS allows one to determine the condition of the cowherd. Animals are scored through visual appraisal and external palpation, and a score of 1(emaciated) to 9(obese) is assigned.  At calving, beef cows should have a minimal BCS of 5 to allow for maximum productivity. Thin cows approaching the calving season can lead to lowered pregnancy rates in the upcoming breeding season. BCS appraisal at calf weaning, followed by management to improve condition in thin, dry cows allows such animals to gain condition by calving time. On average, a mature beef cow requires 80 pounds of gain to move up one BCS. However, without adequate feedstuffs to allow for proper gain before calving, culling thin cows at weaning minimizes reduced future production of the herd.
  4. Low production record: Cows that wean late and/or light weight calves pull down the overall productivity of the herd. If conditions require additional culling, look to these animals to lessen your total numbers and increase average productivity per animal.
  5. Disposition: Culling animals with flighty or aggressive behaviors may reduce frustration, producer injury, and fence/equipment damage.
  6. Cows calving out of season or that lack uniformity with the herd: Animals that calve in a season differing from the main herd or that differ in frame size, breed composition, or color may be good candidates for marketing in years when low resources lead to necessary reduction of the herd. Producing uniform calves of the same weight, age, and type can pay dividends when it comes time to wean and market calves. Eliminating animals from the herd that prevent such uniformity may improve overall future profitability. Importantly, such animals can be marketed through different avenues than animals culled for the criteria 1-5 listed above to. Quality individuals that don’t calve in your calving season or are not of the same type as the remainder of your herd may fit others’ calving seasons or herd profiles perfectly. Take advantage of value added marketing schemes to reap the full benefit these animals offer.

While each operation differs in goals and objectives, balance usage of the above cow evaluation criteria can help producers make educated culling or selling decisions in times when resources are both bountiful or limited.

See more articles with further information of this type:

If you have questions regarding cow evaluation and culling/marketing strategies to enhance your program’s profitability, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties