Hay & Forage Grower - March 2021

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March 2021

Companion crops offer risks and benefits pg 10 Keeping it green with strategic irrigation pg 13 Mowing lodged forage

Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

pg 27

Sorting out sorghum pg 28

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March 2021 · VOL. 36 · No. 3 MANAGING EDITOR Michael C. Rankin ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Jennifer L. Yurs ONLINE MANAGER Patti J. Hurtgen DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John R. Mansavage ADVERTISING SALES Kim E. Zilverberg kzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jenna Zilverberg jzilverberg@hayandforage.com ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Patti J. Kressin pkressin@hayandforage.com



Cattle and crops are a perfect pair This North Carolina row-crop operation has successfully integrated cover crops and stocker cattle into their business model.

EDITORIAL OFFICE 28 Milwaukee Ave. West, Fort Atkinson, WI, 53538 WEBSITE www.hayandforage.com EMAIL info@hayandforage.com PHONE (920) 563-5551

DEPARTMENTS 4 First Cut 13 The Pasture Walk 14 Feed Analysis 16 Alfalfa Checkoff 24 Beef Feedbunk



26 Forage Gearhead 28 Dairy Feedbunk

Cattle have preferences for annual forages Diverse strategies lead to “Choice” grass-fed beef In this unique Kansas State University study, cattle selected what they like to eat from a forage smorgasbord.

A western Kentucky family uses a variety of resources to produce quality grass-fed cattle.





















38 Forage IQ 38 Hay Market Update

ON THE COVER When field conditions are wet, Verhasselt Farms in Kaukauna, Wis., chops into dump carts equipped with wide tires to limit truck wheel-traffic damage in fields. The 3,500cow family operation, which includes three brothers (Ken, Mike, and Bruce) along with Ken’s two sons and a nephew, raise 2,500 acres of corn silage and 2,000 acres of alfalfa. A small amount of tall fescue is seeded with their alfalfa. The farm also harvests some winter rye, which is used as a cover crop. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2021 W. D. Hoard & Sons Company. All rights reserved. Published six times annually in January, February, March, April/May, August/September and November by W. D. Hoard & Sons Co., 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Tel: 920-563-5551. Fax: 920-563-7298. Email: info@hayandforage.com. Website: www.hayandforage.com. Periodicals Postage paid at Fort Atkinson, Wis., and additional mail offices. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Free and controlled circulation to qualified subscribers. Non-qualified subscribers may subscribe at: USA: 1 year $20 U.S.; Outside USA: Canada & Mexico, 1 year $80 U.S.; All other countries, 1 year $120 U.S. For Subscriber Services contact: Hay & Forage Grower, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 USA; call: 920-563-5551, email: info@hayandforage.com or visit: www.hayandforage.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to HAY & FORAGE GROWER, 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Subscribers who have provided a valid email address may receive the Hay & Forage Grower email newsletter eHay Weekly.

March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 3


Nothing good


Mike Rankin Managing Editor

URING my high school years, finding new boundaries was just a part of the maturation process. With age comes a legal driver’s license and the ability to create mischief in ways never before imagined. Put four or five like-minded high school boys together and . . . well . . . the ability to wreak havoc in a small community is limitless. My dad knew this, so he sat me down one day and offered this sage advice: “Mike, nothing good happens after midnight.” Although he wasn’t mandating I be home by midnight, it was strongly suggested and encouraged. There are other situations in life where nothing good happens. It’s certainly that case on a farm or ranch. Lose the “hot” in hot wire — nothing good usually happens. Try to interseed alfalfa into an existing, thinning alfalfa stand — nothing good usually happens. Put hay into storage — nothing good usually happens. But wait . . . what can go wrong with hay in storage? Isn’t the battle usually getting it there? Although that’s true, we also know for certain that forage quality and dry matter retention during storage never improves. In fact, it can decline substantially, depending on the initial baling moisture and storage conditions. Although it’s always a good idea to test forage as it goes into storage, it’s perhaps an even better strategy to test hay as it comes out of storage as well. Just how much forage quality will change from pre- to post-storage largely depends on the moisture content at baling and if the hay is stored indoors or outdoors. Further, if it is outdoors, has some effort been made to protect it from the weather elements? Across the U.S., weather conditions and bale types vary dramatically. In the arid West, where large square bales are baled at moisture levels of 12% or lower, it’s not uncommon for bales to be stored outdoors in stacks. According to Glenn Shewmaker, professor emeritus and longtime extension forage specialist at the University of Idaho, even this dry Western hay is subject to minor heating, and dry matter losses in the range of 5% are common over a six-month storage period. When hay is either baled at higher moistures or wetted during storage, forage quality losses from respiration and heating begin to mount.

Respiration results in lower forage quality by reducing the amount of nonfiber carbohydrates (sugars and starch). This raises the percentage of fiber fractions and may actually cause crude protein levels to rise. Excessive heating causes usable protein to decline as amino acids and sugars bind to form insoluble nitrogen compounds. This is often referred to as caramelized forage, which offers zero feeding value. Even with hay baled at a moisture level of 8% and tarped in stacks, Shewmaker has documented acid detergent fiber (ADF) levels rising by 5.3 percentage units and relative forage quality (RFQ) dipping by 10 points. Finally, Shewmaker cautions about dry hay touching damp soil or concrete surfaces. Dry hay easily wicks moisture, and the bottom bales can account for up to 50% of the total dry matter loss in storage. Whatever hay-storing challenges exist in the West, they can be multiplied by a factor of 10 for the Midwest and East, where hay is generally baled wetter, experiences more precipitation events during storage, and typically exists in more humid conditions. In the eastern U.S., large and small square bales are rarely seen stacked outdoors, covered or not. The same cannot be said for large round bales, and this is where double-digit dry matter and forage quality losses occur for all of the same reasons they do in the West. Although barn storage is often a worthwhile economic investment, the popularity of outdoor storage can’t be ignored. Extensive research has been done to determine how outdoor storage dry matter and forage quality losses can be minimized simply by choosing a well-drained location and storing bales in the proper orientation. Nothing good happens in hay storage, but we can always do a better job of minimizing our losses. Let’s make that a goal as we head into the 2021 harvest season. •

Write Managing Editor Mike Rankin, 28 Milwaukee Ave., P.O. Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 call: 920-563-5551 or email: mrankin@hayandforage.com

4 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

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by Paige Smart


& K Livestock Development LLC is a custom cattle grazing business that was started by my brother, Ryan Kennedy, and I in 2018. Ryan had been using cover crops and minimum tillage practices on our eastern North Carolina family row crop farm for several years. At the same time, my interest and knowledge in cattle and grazing management was growing while I earned my master’s degree through the Amazing Grazing program at North Carolina State University. My brother and I had talked for years about the potential of grazing cattle on the cover crops he grew during the winter between cropping seasons. In late 2017, I applied for and received a $7,000 AgPrime grant funded by the Tobacco Trust Fund to help get our grazing business started. Although our leap into the cattle business was not without hard lessons learned, mistakes, 6 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

and “next times” during the first three years, we now can say that adding cattle to the operation has been a very successful, worthwhile venture.

The model Each year, we bring truckloads of stocker cattle to the farm starting in mid-October through early December. They graze a variety of cover crop species until mid-April, which is when the last load is shipped out so that row-crop planting can continue. The majority of the animals leave our farm in a finished condition, but a small percentage will return to their home farm for a little more time on grass. On average, each group of cattle stays on the farm about 120 days. In an attempt to keep costs and risk low, we are contract grazing. We do not own these cattle and are paid based on average daily gain (ADG). The cattle are finished for an all-natural, pasture-based enterprise, which allows us to feed supplements for up to 1% of the

animal’s body weight per day. To date, our stockers have ranged anywhere from 1.8 to 2.8 pounds of ADG per group with an overall farm average of 2.5 pounds. We do not have access to high-quality stored feed, so we understock the farm to ensure we never have to exclusively feed hay. Currently, our stocking rate is two acres per head. In the 2019-2020 season, the farm was understocked; however, in 2020-2021, we are really pushing our limits. It’s no surprise that weather very dramatically impacts the success of our planned stocking rate. One of the key profitability pieces for us is the length of time we are able

PAIGE SMART The author is a partner in a custom stocker cattle operation in eastern North Carolina. She holds a master’s degree in animal science from North Carolina State University.

All photos: Paige Smart

Steers at S & K Livestock Development enjoy rapeseed. The cattle tend to prefer brassicas to grasses late in the year.

to graze cattle. Having forage ready to graze from mid-October through mid-April is unique and only possible with a wide selection of cover crops. We rely heavily on spring oats, which are ready to graze between 30 to 45 days after planting. Oats allow us to graze from late October through December. They have a risk of winter killing in our area, so we always pair spring oats with more cold-tolerant grasses.

Diversity is needed From December on, we rely heavily on typical cereal grains like rye or triticale. We have also started including early maturing annual ryegrass, which has been excellent for high traffic and wet areas. Not a single one of these forages could support our system in its entirety — the diversity is critical for success. We have been using the following formula to help us determine the number of acres of each grass we need: Spring oats — 1.5 acres per head. Cereal rye — 0.5 acres per head.

Annual ryegrass — 1 acre per head. These are often paired together so that each pasture has two grasses as the base forage. We have adjusted this each year and are finally feeling more comfortable with this formula. As with anything related to forages, hitting an ideal ratio between species will always be a moving target. In addition to these grasses, we also include a brassica in most of our fields. The brassica we have had the most success with is rapeseed, which has only added $2 to $4 in cost per acre and is preferred by the cattle once they adapt to it. We have experimented with annual legumes as well but have not been satisfied with our return on investment or their standability to grazing and traffic pressure. If we were trying to reduce nitrogen inputs for the row crops, then legumes might provide more value. Our winter annuals are not always ready to graze by mid-October, so we have experimented with both stockpiled bermudagrass and late-planted summer annuals to cover that potential two-week lapse. I was initially satisfied with grazing stockpiled bermudagrass but have since had mixed results. Grazing late planted millet or corn has been successful, but irrigation was necessary to meet our timeline. Without irrigation, planting in September is too big of a gamble in our area. Most of our acreage is planted using a fertilizer spreader to broadcast the seed followed by a pass with our Turbo-Till. In the future, we may invest in a no-till drill, but broadcasting currently works best for the number of acres we are covering with limited labor.

Wet soil constraints You might anticipate that we have nothing but sandy soils in eastern North Carolina; however, the majority of the acreage we are grazing is a “Carolina Bay” soil. This is a high organic matter, wet soil. With above average rainfall the past few years, we’ve seen significant forage losses to flooding. In the future, we are going to have to build a 15% to 20% loss of yield into our forage plan due to flooding. One year might be a fluke, but after three years, I think we can call these losses a trend. Being a row-crop farm, most of our fields are not contiguous; this means we are often creating groups of cattle that stick to the same fields the whole time they are with us. From a forage perspective, we have to ensure that each group

gets those ideal grass ratios. This also means we frequently walk cattle across roads during pasture moves, which would not be possible without having the cattle well trained to polywire. Fertility and timing of fertility has been an ongoing learning curve. Most of the fertilizer comes to the farm in the form of commercial compost or poultry litter. We can fertilize in the fall for a huge fall growth spurt, but we really need those grasses to grow the most in January and February. Applying compost

A mixture of spring oats, ryegrass, crimson clover, rapeseed, and volunteer corn about 20 days after planting.

to boost growth for this period has given us the best results in terms of grazing days, but it’s very difficult to find a dry window of time in those months to run the application equipment. We are still learning how best to resolve this.

Minimal row-crop impacts The stocker operation causes little impact on the timing of row crop planting or harvest. In the areas that we know will be grazed early in the season and need to be planted to forage quickly, we will use an earlier maturing soybean variety. Corn is typically harvested in August, which doesn’t interfere with our forage planting in mid-September. After the cattle leave in the spring, the feeding areas, high-traffic areas, and wettest fields show serious pugging and at least perceived compaction from hoof action. While plant roots will ultimately help this issue, in the worst areas we run a deep tillage implement to mitigate any compaction.

Lessons learned My brother and I both feel that adding a stocker enterprise to the farm is sustainable and a benefit from the standpoint of land stewardship. Just as important, there is profit to be made. continued on following page >>> March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 7

Ryan Kennedy walks across a mixture of spring oats and ryegrass about 10 days post-planting. The previous crop was soybean.

We’ve learned a tremendous amount in our short time doing this, and we still have many more lessons on the horizon. Here are a few of the overarching lessons worth sharing to date: Make it temporary. One of the greatest things about this stocker model is that we get to start new every year. The forages, every fence line, the water system, and even our working facility are all temporary and movable. This has been the biggest key to our success and provides us the opportunity to make dramatic improvements each year. Our perimeter fencing is all two-strand polywire. We use fiberglass post corners with step-in posts every 20 feet. The interior fencing that is used for weekly rotations is single strand polywire. We have about 28 miles of polywire, six water troughs, and four fence chargers. Our waterers either pull from our irrigation wells or are solar powered and access water from the flowing ditches. The working facility is also mobile, so we can unload, load, treat, or weigh anywhere on the farm. Using completely temporary systems also means that the row crops are not impaired by fences, water lines, and so forth. One of our biggest regrets are those few fences and water systems that we initially made permanent. Be realistic. One of the biggest mistakes I made in our first season was overestimating the forage production capacity of our land. I planned for the “best-case scenario,” and, as a result, we fed more hay-based diets than we would have liked. To be profitable in this business, every bite that an animal takes needs to be as nutritious and balanced as possible. Plan for realistic or low yields and be pleasantly surprised if the best-case scenario plays out. Focus on forage timing, and do everything possible to have no gaps. Developing a realistic forage plan may take a few years, but don’t be discouraged. As long as you are learning, you’re progressing. Be creative. When you start looking at everything as an opportunity, you’ll realize how much you can do with cattle that are well-trained to polywire. Before we owned enough polywire to fence out every pasture, we would contain the cattle in a 40-foot by 40-foot polywire square, reel up the current pasture’s polywire on a garden hose reel, unreel it on the next pasture, and then finally move them from their box to their new pasture. It would take us about four hours to accomplish this, but it often kept us from feeding hay. I never would have considered doing this or moving cattle across the road using polywire, but my brother does a great 8 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

job of challenging me to think outside of the box. I’ve often encountered farmers who have “hayfields” right next to “pastures.” I wonder how much less hay these same farmers would need if they were more flexible with their plans, put up some polywire, and grazed that hayfield when they were in need. Have a plan in place, but don’t be afraid to be flexible and change the plan at the last minute. So much is possible with good planning, good forages, and very hot polywire. I encourage you to think outside of the box and look for opportunities that are there for the taking. •

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IGH-QUALITY, lush pastures offer tremendous benefits for supporting animal performance in grazing systems. The following provides a few tips on how to use these pastures most effectively during the winter and spring months: If it’s just a haze, don’t graze! Weary from cold days spent feeding hay to cattle, we have all experienced the temptation of turning cattle out on winter pasture just before it is ready for grazing. This occurs when the forage is growing well and the horizon of the pasture has a green appearance, like a haze, but the forage has not fully tillered or “filled-out” to make a closed plant canopy ready for grazing. Make sure that pastures are well-established before turning cattle onto cool-season pastures. Grazing of most cool-season forage grasses used in the southeastern U.S., such as small grains, ryegrass, and tall fescue, can occur when forages have reached a minimum of 8 inches in height. It is important that these forages are not overgrazed in the spring and should be maintained to at least a 3- to 4-inch stubble height. Understand the impacts of animal management prior to turnout. Most cattle transitioning to cool-season pastures have been previously managed on a diet consisting of hay and supplemental feeds during the late fall and early winter forage production gap. Shifting from a high-fiber diet to a high-mois-

ture, low-fiber diet takes time for the rumen to adjust and efficiently digest the high-quality forage. In a commercial heifer development program conducted by Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, researchers have observed that it takes a three- to four-week time frame for beef replacement heifers to adequately transition onto cool-season annuals and achieve a weight gain of greater than 1.5 pounds per day. Limit graze to ease the transition. Limit grazing is a strategy that provides cattle short-term access to a high-quality forage crop. Providing access to cool-season annuals for a few hours per day (generally four to six hours), two to three times per week may significantly reduce hay and supplementation needs during the winter months. Limit-grazing may be utilized to maximize forage use efficiency in this system, reduce forage trampling and waste, and provide access to early growth of cool-season forages. Offer free-choice hay on pasture. Feeding hay while on cool-season pastures may help provide cattle with adequate roughage to more efficiently digest high-quality pasture. This strategy can also be used to help extend grazed forage availability for cattle grazing cool-season forages. Consider animals with the greatest nutrient requirements. Cool-season forages offer the highest plane of nutrition during the calendar year for grazing beef cattle. Consider using a grazing strategy that allows animals with the highest nutrient needs to access the

forage first. This may include developing replacement heifers, creep grazing for calves, or mature cows in peak lactation (up to 60 days after calving). Think about strategies to manage for appropriate residual forage. Overgrazing lush pastures can be detrimental for pasture regrowth. Maintaining adequate residual stubble height is an important consideration as pastures recover from periods of cold weather. Allowing a recovery and regrowth period after times of extreme cold can help improve forage production during the spring. Strategies such as rotational stocking or limit grazing help control the amount of time spent on pasture, which can help provide time for adequate regrowth of cool-season pastures as well. Provide products to improve forage digestion and reduce the risk for bloat. Technologies such as ionophores can also help improve animal daily gains and may help lower the potential for bloat in lush, high-quality pastures. These can be delivered in mineral supplements or in hand-fed supplements. A common practice is to provide these in a free-choice mineral for cattle grazing high-quality, cool-season pastures. •

KIM MULLENIX The author is an associate professor and extension beef specialist with Auburn University.

March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 9


CRITICAL component of profitable alfalfa production is the need to establish a dense, vigorous stand. In annual crops such as corn and wheat, a poor stand can haunt a farmer for a season, but the opportunity to establish a new and better stand comes the next year. With alfalfa, it is common for stands to remain productive for four to six years or longer. A poor stand not only hinders forage yield and nutritive value during the establishment year, but also for many years to come. Any mistakes made in stand establishment are nearly impossible to correct later and ultimately shorten the life of the stand. One strategy for stand establishment is planting a small grain with alfalfa as a companion crop. Historically, using companion crops such as oats with alfalfa were standard practice. Over the past 50 years, though, the development of herbicides provided a viable weed control alternative, and companion crops fell out of favor. Recently, there has been renewed interest in companion crops due to new marketing opportunities like organic and oat-alfalfa mixed hay, the onset of herbicide-resistant weeds, interest in cover crops and soil health, and the need for emergency forage. 10 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

Companion crops can improve weed control and forage yield, and they help protect developing seedlings during alfalfa establishment. Companion crops also can improve alfalfa emergence on soils prone to crusting and protect young seedlings from the effects of wind-blown soils and soil erosion. Multiple years of research at Utah State University have shown an approximately 70% reduction in weed growth through the use of an oat companion seeded at 10 pounds per acre. In those same studies, oat companion crops generally improved first cutting forage yield in the seedling year by 1 to 2.5 tons per acre compared to alfalfa seeded alone (see Figure 1).

On the downside The risks associated with companion crops are the consequence of excessive plant competition with alfalfa seedlings. Once established, alfalfa is an excellent competitor, but as a seedling, it is not. Alfalfa takes months to develop the root structure and canopy sufficient to compete with other plants. In contrast, an oat companion crop can accomplish that same goal in weeks. To a young alfalfa seedling, the companion crop is a weed — an aggressive competitor for space, water, nutrients, and light. The result of this competition is a reduced alfalfa stand with lower vigor, yield, and forage quality. Research in

Utah has shown that higher forage yield with an oat companion in the first cutting compared to alfalfa seeded alone are followed by reduced yields in the cuttings that follow (see Figures 1 and 2). Furthermore, the use of a companion crop, even when well-managed, can reduce alfalfa yield 0.2 to 0.5 tons per acre each year over the life of the stand. In most cases, the risks outweigh the benefits, so seeding alfalfa with a companion crop is not recommended in many cases. Exceptions might include fields with weed species and populations not well controlled with herbicides, areas prone to soil crusting or blowing sand where alfalfa seedlings need protection, or hay markets such as organic that reward oat-alfalfa mixtures and require no chemical use.

Plan for success When a companion is used, all management practices should be geared to favor the alfalfa rather than the companion crop. The companion crop EARL CREECH AND CARSON ROBERTS Creech (pictured) is an associate professor and extension agronomist at Utah State University. Roberts is a graduate research assistant and master’s degree candidate at Utah State.

seeding rates required for companion crops, so an on-farm calibration to determine a custom drill setting may be necessary. When oat and alfalfa are planted with different seed boxes in the same pass, use the optimal seeding depth for alfalfa. Fertilize for alfalfa. Take a soil test and apply fertilizer to the level of potassium and phosphorus required for alfalfa. Do not apply nitrogen to an alfalfa-small grain companion seeding. Nitrogen application enhances the growth and competitiveness of small grains and may reduce the alfalfa stand. Monitor soil moisture. Small grain companion crops compete with alfalfa below ground and reduce alfalfa root growth. The smaller root system of alfalfa coupled with depletion of soil moisture by the companion crop may amplify drought stress in alfalfa and reduce stand and vigor. Use of a

companion crop in moisture-limited situations is not recommended. Consider early termination with an herbicide. When the companion crop is needed as an aid to alfalfa establishment but not desired at harvest, an herbicide can be applied to remove the small grain while it is young and before it competes with the alfalfa. Grass-only herbicides such as Poast (sethoxydim) and Select (clethodim) are labeled to control small grains in conventional alfalfa, while glyphosate-based herbicides can be used if the crop is glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready). Recent research in Utah has found significant reductions in yield can occur if the companion crop is allowed to grow taller than 12 inches before termination. Herbicide applications at later stages will also reduce the quality of the forage due to brownish-yellow oat continued on following page >>>

Dry matter yield tons/acre

Figure 1: First cut total dry matter yield (tons per acre) separated into alfalfa, oats, and weeds 6

■ Alfalfa


■ Oat

■ Weed

4 3 2 1 0



20 10 Oat seeding rate (lbs./acre)


0 + Herbicide

Logan, Utah, 2019 and 2020.

Figure 2: Season total (first plus second cutting) dry matter yield (tons per acre) separated into alfalfa, oats, and weeds Dry matter yield tons/acre

is a short-term (one cutting) tool to aid in the establishment of a long-term (20 or more cuttings) alfalfa stand. The following are management practices for companion crops that result in minimal harm to the developing alfalfa stand. Choose the right species and cultivar. Although oats are typically the companion crop of choice, other species of small grains have been used. Species or cultivars of cereal crops that are short in stature, early to mid-maturing, and small leaved are desirable, as they allow maximum sunlight to reach alfalfa seedlings. Companion crops prone to lodging are a threat to smother young alfalfa and should be avoided. Keep seeding rates low. The most common mistake with companion crops is seeding at too high of a rate. Pure oat stands for forage are typically planted at 80 to 100 pounds of seed per acre. If this high rate is used in a companion seeding, excessive competition will occur and a poor alfalfa stand will result. The challenge is to select a seeding rate that balances the need for maximum forage yield and weed suppression while causing minimal harm to the alfalfa. Much research on optimal oat companion crop seeding rates has occurred in Utah and other states. These studies consistently show that oat seeding rates higher than 20 pounds per acre enhance yield and weed suppression but can permanently reduce alfalfa vigor and plant density. Similarly, oat seeding rates less than about 7 or 8 pounds per acre may not have a noticeable effect on yield or weed control. As a companion crop to alfalfa, an oat seeding rate of around 10 to 15 pounds per acre is recommended. The standard seeding rate of alfalfa should be used when planting with a companion. Plant with the alfalfa in mind. Planting dates should be optimal for alfalfa stand establishment and not adjusted to favor the companion crop. If a two-pass planting system is employed, plant the oats first followed by the alfalfa. Oats can be drill-seeded or broadcast and incorporated with a harrow or disk. Immediately afterwards, the alfalfa can be drill or broadcast planted. The standard planting depth for oats (0.5 to 1 inch) is deeper than alfalfa (less than 0.5 inch). Drill-seeding alfalfa perpendicular to oats can minimize competition within rows. Most seeding charts on drills do not have a calibration for the very low


■ Alfalfa


■ Oat

■ Weed

6 5 4 3 2 1 0



20 10 Oat seeding rate (lbs./acre)


0 + Herbicide

Logan, Utah, 2019 and 2020.

March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 11

plant corpses in the hay. Time harvest based on alfalfa growth and maturity. Take the first cutting according to the maturity of the alfalfa, not the companion crop. If excessive competition between the companion crop and alfalfa is evident, harvest can occur early to allow more light to reach the developing alfalfa plants. Lodging of the small grain companion crop can smother alfalfa seedlings and can be minimized with management practices such as low seeding rates, no nitrogen fertilizer, and short cultivars. If lodging occurs, cut and remove the crop as soon as possible to protect the young alfalfa stand. The primary objective of seeding alfalfa, regardless of whether a companion crop is used, is to establish a dense, vigorous, and long-lived alfalfa stand. The short-term benefits of companion crops should not come at the expense of the long-term potential of the alfalfa. Excessive plant competition, and resulting loss of alfalfa productivity, can be avoided by managing fields to favor alfalfa growth rather than the companion crop. •


10 lbs. oats

Herbicide 20 lbs. oats

40 lbs. oats

This visual of plant separations depicts what to expect with various alfalfa establishment strategies. They were cut from a 2-foot square subplot prior to first cutting in the seeding year. From left to right in each photo are alfalfa, oats, and weeds, assuming all three were present.

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by Jim Gerrish

The value of pasture-raised livestock products may now justify the cost of irrigation.

those six weeks, it might be the difference between getting the animals finished on the specified harvest date or not. It might be the difference between a steer grading Select rather than Choice.

Direct financial implications

Mike Rankin

Keep it green with strategic irrigation


T SEEMS pretty straightforward. In the West, we irrigate pastures; in the East, we don’t. In the East, it rains frequently, and in the West, it doesn’t. Plain as black and white. End of story . . . or is it? During the 23 years we were on our farm in Missouri, where we averaged 38 to 40 inches of precipitation annually, I am pretty sure it never crossed my mind to consider any kind of irrigation there. Sure, we had dry spells where a little bit of water would have made a big difference, but there was no way that irrigation could possibly be affordable — or could it be? What changed my viewpoint in the 17 years since we left Missouri and settled in central Idaho, where we experience only 7 to 8 inches of precipitation annually? Is it the fact that I live and work with irrigation on a daily basis now? Have I simply fallen under the allure of knowing I have the power to make it rain? Not really.

A greater demand What has changed my mind is the changing face of the American food system. It is the changing value of the products we can make and offer directly to the consumer. The demand for pasture-raised beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and dairy products has been steadily growing throughout the U.S. for the last 20-plus years. Farmers and ranch-

ers now have the opportunity to earn premium prices for high-quality food produced entirely from their pastures. The quality of these pasture-raised food products is affected directly by the quantity and quality of forage available to the livestock. Consumers are willing to pay a significant premium for tasty, tender meats raised entirely on pasture. You can walk into mainstream supermarkets and find milk and other dairy products from cows fed only forages. There’s not one bite of grain in their diet — just 100% grass milk. The challenge down on the farm is ensuring there is an adequate quantity and quality of forage available every day to keep the milk flowing and the beef animals fattening. There is now a direct link between the paddock that the livestock enter today and the price you will receive for the end product. That is where strategic irrigation comes into the picture. Even in a historically wet environment like the Midwest or the Northeast, we see periodic droughts. Dry spells as short as two weeks can begin to affect the growth and quality of the available forage. Stretch that out to four or six weeks, or even longer, with minimal rainfall on a cool-season pasture that thrives on an abundance of water, and the whole production model starts to break down. For the farmer who has the option of applying an inch of water per week for

Suddenly, the ability to keep a pasture green and highly nutritious has a direct financial outcome, and that difference can be substantial. It could be substantial enough to pay for installing an irrigation system that may only be needed a few weeks of the year. As the climate becomes more unpredictable, the insurance of having timely irrigation available will become more valuable. It isn’t necessary to plan to irrigate the entire farm. It is important to choose a site with highly productive soils that is hopefully close to a strong water source. It takes a lot of water to irrigate, so the idea of watering 40 acres out of a 1-acre pond just isn’t feasible. For supplemental irrigation, we like to see a well with at least 5 gallons per minute (GPM) flow rate per irrigated acre. If you are looking to water 40 acres, you will need a water capacity of 200 GPM. That’s a lot of water demand, and it’s much more than most farmers in the eastern half of the U.S. are used to thinking about. For the smaller field sizes and the frequently odd-shaped pastures found in the rolling country in the East, we like the flexibility of the line-pod irrigation systems. This equipment was originally developed in New Zealand specifically for pasture irrigation. Compared to center pivot or linear sprinkler systems, it is a much lower cost option. If you are in the business of producing premium value pasture-raised meat and dairy products for direct marketing to discerning consumers, you should probably be looking at the opportunity of strategic irrigation to protect the yield and quality of your pastures. • JIM GERRISH The author is a rancher, author, speaker, and consultant with over 40 years of experience in grazing management research, outreach, and practice. He has lived and grazed livestock in hot, humid Missouri and cold, dry Idaho.

March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 13


by John Goeser



HE underlying genetics of corn, or Zea mays, stem from domesticated teosinte found in Latin America thousands of years ago. There has been debate around this concept, but in the past 30 years, scientists have come to accept that today’s corn originated from southern Mexican regions. Teosinte is a group of native annual and perennial grasses in Mexico. Much like corn evolved through domestication in Mexico, today’s dairy and beef cattle evolved under domestication many years ago while consuming grass and forage. Yet, today’s high-performing dairy and feedlot cattle cannot sustain and thrive on forage alone. Corn is actually a grass, but we do not think of it as such due to corn’s high grain yield. When nutritionists or farmers discuss grass, the focus is typically around a cool- or warm-season grass such as Italian ryegrass, triticale, or sorghum. Despite not recognizing corn as a grass, we do think of corn as a forage. Herein lies a conflict. If corn silage is a forage, but we do not think of it as grass due to the grain, how do we define this feed in rations? Many nutritionists and farms assign a 100% forage value to corn silage and then monitor the forage-to-grain or roughage levels in diets. The recognition of what corn silage brings to the ration can be improved upon.

Both stover and grain Taxonomically, corn silage is a roughly 50:50 blend of grass stem and leaves to grain. The exceptional yield and efficiency that corn silage can bring per acre ties to the grain. So much so, that corn silage yield is typically around 50% or more driven by grain yield. Yield gains that plant breeders 14 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

have been achieving also primarily come from grain. Further, many corn silage pricing efforts are determined based upon the grain yield. The corn plant’s stem and leaves can be collectively referred to as stover. The stover brings fiber and energy to the diet as well. Some breeders have made efforts to separate the stover from the grain to evaluate corn silage nutrition characteristics with greater focus on each. However, separating stover from grain for silage testing takes considerable effort at half-milkline maturity and is not recommended. Coming back to corn’s genetic blueprint, roughly 100 years of seed genetic advances have emphasized plant health, standability, grain yield, and other important characteristics. Corn breeders evaluate grain quality in their programs, but it’s important to note that grain quality desires for grain farmers equate to improved bushel weight, kernel density, and hardness factors relating to harvest and handling advantages. This is not the same grain quality needs we have for dairy or finishing beef cattle; in fact, it is just the opposite.

Grain hardness matters When cattle consume a pound of silage or grain, the first step toward digesting feed in the rumen is the free-floating bacteria colonizing the feed particles. Many do not recognize that the free-floating rumen bacteria in liquid do the work, accounting for the feed’s initial digestion. Thus, the feed particles need to be soaked with rumen liquid prior to digestion, and corn grain is inherently not soluble in water or the rumen. In fact, the hardness factors that improve grain quality for grain farmers render grain less soluble in water and less

accessible to rumen microbes. The improved grain quality associated with high grain yields can actually be a negative for cattle performance. Substantial differences in grain hardness, or vitreousness, can equate to substantially different rumen digestion and energy potential, according to research published by the University of Wisconsin’s Randy Shaver and his colleagues. Kernel processing, fermentation, and grinding can partly overcome the grain hardness, but not entirely. Ask your nutritionist or seed adviser about grain quality.

Each has value Coming back to the recognition that corn silage is a mix of forage and grain, consider treating it accordingly. Fiber and starch each contain the same number of calories, but ruminants are only able to unlock 40% to 50% of the calories in corn silage fiber. Fiber, alternatively, brings important rumen health aspects to your ration, which grain does not. Ask your nutritionist what the roughage or forage level in your total mixed ration (TMR) would be if corn silage was split into a 50:50 mix of grain and forage. Beyond corn silage, other feeds can be a mixed bag of groceries when brought into the ration. Snaplage and earlage are also a blend of some stover and grain. These two feeds have far less stover and often are not considered forage at all, but may bring a small forage percentage into the diet. Lastly, check with your nutritionist and recognize there are better ways to balance the fiber and rumen health aspects of your TMR than forage or roughage percentage. Your nutritionist is likely monitoring more important diet parameters, including neutral detergent fiber (aNDF), forage aNDF, or undigestible aNDF (uNDF240) levels. Balancing these fiber measures against other energy measures like starch or sugar will help your herd achieve exceptional rumen health and performance. • JOHN GOESER The author is the director of nutrition research and innovation with Rock River Lab Inc, and adjunct assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dairy Science Department.


Southern alfalfa needs potassium, too Hay & Forage Grower is featuring results of research projects funded through the Alfalfa Checkoff, officially named the U.S. Alfalfa Farmer Research Initiative, administered by National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA). The checkoff program facilitates farmer-funded research.

S ALFALFA has slowly been reintroduced to Southern fields this past decade — this time grown with bermudagrass — the need for new alfalfa research has also grown. Southern researchers and farmers have been questioning whether alfalfa management standards created largely in Northern climates are best for the South, where the legume is often grown on sandy soils and is harvested up to seven times a season. University of Georgia Animal Scientist Jennifer Tucker and colleagues from neighboring states are working to get answers. A recent Alfalfa Checkoff project she oversaw tested whether potassium could be applied to pure alfalfa at lower rates than the general recommendation of JENNIFER TUCKER 300 units per acre $15,500 and still maintain stand persistence and yield. Since 2016, Tucker has been researching how forage quality and grazing management can positively affect beef nutrition and production in the Southeast. Tucker had noted that potassium deficiency was the culprit “nine times out of 10” when farmers asked her to check problem stands with thinning bermudagrass and sickly alfalfa. “Producers like to cut costs at all opportunities, and potash tends to be one of those things they cut,” she added. “You don’t see the effect until it’s already too late — you’ve lost a portion of your stand or your yield is significantly impacted. So, we decided to look into potassium deficiency and potassium rates.” The project piggy-backed on a twoyear National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant allowing Tucker to study above-ground effects of 16 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

potassium and harvest effects on alfalfa yield, quality, and stand persistence. Four pure alfalfa plots, divided according to harvest intervals of bud stage, 10% bloom, 30% bloom, and 50% bloom, were subdivided. Potassium was applied to each subplot at one of five different rates (0, 60, 90, 120, and 150 pounds per acre), which were split-applied three times during the season.

A confirmation After the last harvest of the NIFA study, Tucker and then-graduate student Britta Thinguldstad dug up roots to complete the Checkoff research. They evaluated management impacts by comparing the amount of root carbohydrates in them as well as stand vitality and yield. The lower potassium rates did not affect the root carbohydrate

analyses, but harvest timing did affect starch and nonstructural carbohydrates. Her conclusion: The standard higher potassium rates and harvesting at 10% bloom should be maintained in the Southern Coastal Plains. “It was really a confirmation and pinpointed that 10% bloom stage is definitely the harvest target we should be looking at. And you can see that it does not pay to cut corners (when applying potassium),” Tucker said. “If we had run this out for a third year, the stand would then be in its fifth year, and plants would have gotten older and more depleted from not having enough available potassium across the season. We probably would have seen more pronounced differences than what we were able to catch,” she added. The subsoil was showing depletions. “When you get a foot down, that’s where we see our greatest challenges in our sandy soils — the potassium leaches out. So, I think if we had another year that would have given us the prominent results that we were expecting to see,” Tucker explained. “There is a lot of data that shows potash has an effect on long-term stand persistence and yield.” Tucker is currently working with colleagues at Auburn University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Florida to research ways their farmers can integrate alfalfa in various

PROJECT RESULTS 1. Root carbohydrate analyses determined that regardless of potassium fertilization rate, harvest timing affected starch and NSC content of roots. 2. To optimize alfalfa yield and persistence, current recommendations for alfalfa harvest timing and potassium fertilization should be maintained in the Southern Coastal Plains. Photos, left to right, are of alfalfa established into dormant bermudagrass in November 2019 and the Checkoff research alfalfa trial. Photos by Jennifer Tucker.

cropping or grazing systems. The integrated system of bermudagrass and alfalfa fits well for beef producers. “The supreme quality of alfalfa significantly improves the moderate quality of a bermudagrass stand, extends the use of a single unit of land whether only for summer or to encompass much of the year, and it still meets or exceeds the dietary needs of beef animals,” Tucker said. “We’ve got a stigma that

alfalfa is just for dairy animals and purebred horses. But it fits beef cattle operations, and, when used effectively, you don’t have to add a lot of supplements or other feed.” With newer, resistant alfalfa varieties and effective ways to control alfalfa weevil — part of the reason alfalfa “disappeared” from Southern fields in the 1960s and 1970s — alfalfa is being successfully grown in the South. •

For more information, check out these presentations: Alfalfa in the South 2020 Online Series videos — bit.ly/HFG-south-alfalfa Mixing it up with Alfalfa in the South Workshop at AFGC 2020 — bit.ly/ HFG-alfalfa-AFGC For Tucker’s Alfalfa Checkoff Final Report, visit alfalfa.org.

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March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 17

Jaymelynn Farney

Cattle have preferences for annual forages by Jaymelynn Farney


OVER crops are a conservation management tool in grain production that are used to enhance soil properties, reduce erosion, control weeds, and play a role in water management. However, there are costs associated with establishment and termination of cover crops, and oftentimes the economic returns are slowly recaptured, if measurable at all. One way to quickly recoup the cost of cover crops is to use them as an annual forage for livestock. Integrating cattle (or other livestock species) into cropping systems offers many benefits to production agriculture, such as diversification, spreading risk, improving the ecological production of crops, and offering positive economic returns. When a producer is determining which cover crops to plant, there is a very large list of acceptable plant species (over 50 in many regions of the U.S.). The good thing about this exhaustive list of species is that plant selection can be tailored to a specific operation’s objectives. However, when trying to make decisions from a cattle performance perspective, that large list becomes daunting. From a nutritional standpoint, many annual forage options can be valuable for livestock, assuming they are har-

18 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

vested prior to plants reaching reproductive stages. There have been many publications and research projects that have looked at the biomass production and forage nutritive values of annual forages, but few have evaluated how that also corresponds to palatability and acceptability by livestock.

What do cattle prefer? At Kansas State University, we were interested in evaluating cattle preference for a variety of popular cover crops that producers were also grazing. We felt that knowing preferences for these forage types could be useful in a strategic plant species selection process. Depending on an operation’s goal, a producer may want to plant only the species that are highly preferred by livestock to maximize potential intake and gains. Conversely, they may want to strategically pick some plant species that cattle will not consume as readily to guarantee an appreciable amount of biomass is left in the field for soil health improvement and maintenance. This might aid in the building of organic matter and improving the soil’s carbon-to-nitrogen balance. Three studies were completed that evaluated cattle preference for annual forage/cover crop plant species. The first project looked at fall (prefreeze) grazing of annual forage plant species. Eight

different species were planted in repurposed protein tubs on the same date in August. Three Holstein heifers that had never been exposed to any of the plant species were placed in pens with the annual forages, and the rank of consumption for the plants was determined. In the first study, the preferred order of selection was winter barley, a tie for second with Austrian winter pea and Graza forage radish, and then there was no difference in selectivity between a whole host of other brassica plants (purple top turnip, Impact collard, yellow mustard, Trophy rapeseed, and Bayou kale; see Figure 1). In the prefreeze set of plants, it was interesting to see that Graza forage radish was much more highly selected among the brassicas. Upon further investigation, it had a much lower concentration of glucosinolates, which offer a very bitter flavor for cattle. We believe that is why cattle preferred the forage radish over other brassicas. Additionally, it was surprising to see the behavior of the cattle in regard to essentially preferring the winter pea and forage radish to the same degree. When watching the cattle on recorded video, they would initially sniff and walk away from the winter pea, then go take some bites of other forages. However, once they took a bite of the winter pea, they consumed all the plants that were in the tub. It seemed as if there was something in either the structure of the plant or a smell that was undesirable to the cattle until they actually consumed the winter pea, and then they really liked it.

Postfreeze selection differed During the following winter, a similar study was conducted with four Holstein heifers offered a few more legume and grass options. This time, we waited to collect preference information until after a killing freeze. Once again, the cereal grass species of winter oat and barley were the most highly preferred, with no difference between the two (see Figure 2).

JAYMELYNN FARNEY The author is an associate professor and a beef systems extension specialist with Kansas State University.

8 7 6 Rank

There are many warm-season annual forages that are planted in Kansas for feed, so we looked at cattle preference of these annual forages for grazing. As with the fall/winter annuals evaluated, the warm-season grasses were more highly preferred as compared to other plant species. But even within the grass species, forage sorghum and sorghum-sudangrass were more highly preferred as compared to pearl millet (see Figure 3). This was an interesting observation, and we thought it might have been due to high nitrates in pearl millet, as pearl millet often has a higher nitrate concentration than other warm-season grasses. We tested the forages and found that the lowest nitrate value was actually in the pearl millet. Then we looked at plant structure, and the “grazed” pearl millet had a “hairy” leaf underside that was rough to the touch versus being smooth like the other grass species. This may have led to a less desirable eating experience for the heifers. A third hypothesis as to the higher preference for the sorghums is that both hybrids used in the study had the brown midrib (BMR) trait. This may have led to improvements in palatability. The intermediately preferred warm-season annual species consisted of sunflower and sunn hemp, and the least preferred were okra, mungbean, and safflower. We started grazing these plant species as soon as the sorghums were 2-feet tall to minimize prussic acid toxicity concerns. As such, the sunflower and sunn hemp were both very vegetative, especially as compared to the mungbean, which had already started growing pods. This is probably why it had a lower selection rank. These studies were just “spot” tests of

Figure 1: Prefreeze for fall/winter annuals c

Plant type: P < 0.001 Day: P = 0.47 Plant x day: P = 0.63


5 4 3 2 1







0 Barley

Graza radish

Winter Purple-top Impact pea turnip collard

Yellow Trophy mustard rapeseed

Bayou kale

Figure 2: Postfreeze for winter annuals 7 6 5 Rank

Liked the sorghums

there really is no difference. However, if working with growing calves, a few days to a week of spending time selecting away from a forage can inhibit weight gains enough that producers would be disappointed in their plant selection. •

cattle preference; the animals had two days of feed available. We know that cattle can learn to consume less desirable feeds, so if selectivity was tracked through a whole season, we may see some differences in selectivity — or that

Plant type: P < 0.001 Day: P = 0.97 Plant x day: P = 0.23


4 3 2





Common vetch

Graza radish

Winter pea



1 0 Oat




Figure 3: Summer annual 8 7 6 Rank

The intermediate preference plants were common vetch, Graza forage radish, Austrian winter pea, and Trophy rapeseed. Purple-top turnips postfreeze were the least preferred forage of the group. It was interesting to see that the rapeseed plant did improve eating quality after a freeze to be the same preference as the Graza forage radish, which was much more highly preferred before a freeze. There is a significant price difference in these two brassicas, and timing of consumption needs to be accounted for in their selection criteria.


Plant type: P < 0.001 Day: P = 0.93 Plant x day: P = 0.04


5 4



Sunn hemp


3 2





1 0 Forage Sorghum sorghum sudan

Pearl millet


Mungbean Safflower

March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 19


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Multiple forage resources combined with rotational grazing are responsible for a successful grass-fed enterprise at Palmer Farms.

C.J. Weddle

Diverse strategies lead to “CHOICE” grass-fed beef by C. J. Weddle

range from weanlings to finished cattle, on his pastures at any time.


Your choice

ILKING dairy cows everyday became monotonous and tiresome for Mike Palmer as a young farmer, which is why he transitioned his grandfather’s dairy farm near Murray, Ky., into a grass-fed beef operation. His family has been farming the same land for generations. Mike’s great-grandparents owned and farmed a quarter section in their prime. But as time passed, the Palmer family didn’t retain all of the original acreage. These days, Mike, his wife Stacie, and their children raise beef cattle and tobacco on 200 acres that they own or rent from neighboring farms. Minus about 15 acres of tobacco, the rest of the land is utilized as permanent pasture. Mike and his family moved into grass-fed beef in 2011 when 11 heifers did not breed, and they decided to feed them out. After contacting a local USDA slaughterhouse, the Palmers entered the grass-fed beef market. Beginning with those open heifers, Mike now has more than 40 market animals, which

22 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

Palmer Farms’ cattle are grass-fed from the day they are born until they leave the farm for processing. Yes, the carcasses grade Choice. Mike said he doesn’t know many people who want a lean steak even if it is grass-fed, so he gives them a choice: his Choice grade, grass-fed beef, or other farmers’ lean grass-fed beef. “If you can grow forages to make a Jersey cow give richer milk than she already does,” Mike theorized, “you can grow forages to make beef cattle gain weight with great marbling.” Learning this feeding trick from his grandfather, that is exactly how Mike manages his 40-cow herd. So, what is he using to meet his final product goals? Mike’s summer pastures are heavily populated with crabgrass. Although crabgrass is a warm-season annual, if it’s allowed to produce viable seed at least once during a growing season, the forage will persist for multiple years.

Some of the pastures have a healthy stand of Kentucky 31 tall fescue. The toxic forage is most potent during the summer months. Mike noted, “It’s not detrimental to your animals or your gain if you graze it in the early spring and again later in the fall.”

Multiple feeding strategies Apart from these two grasses, the Palmers utilize Marshall ryegrass as a winter annual. “Some years we are planting the ryegrass before the crabgrass plays out,” he mentioned. For 2021, Mike plans to use spring oats as a forage crop on his farm. “We’ll plant in the fall, and when it’s ready, we’ll greenchop it and feed it that way,” he explained. Mike capitalizes on a variety of feeding methods. Of course, he is rotationally grazing, but sometimes conditions do not always allow it. Weather, forage growth, and other farm activity can prevent the Palmers from intensively moving their cattle.

C.J. WEDDLE The author was the 2020 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends Mississippi State University and is majoring in agricultural education, leadership, and communications.

High demand With a standing appointment at the butcher, the family is constantly restocking their freezers. “Having an appointment for two animals every other week kept us well stocked until COVID-19 cleaned us out,” Stacie explained. She manages the direct sales of their grass-fed beef. Some of her favorite places, and highest demand markets, are local farmers markets. Bringing multiple coolers full of meat, Stacie sometimes sells out before the event is over. To avoid shortages, she fills preorders to bring along with her normal stock. In doing so, her loyal customers know that their meat is available, and Stacie has the opportunity to draw in new customers as well. To ensure product year-round and meet customer needs, Mike has split his herd into four calving groups. The largest group of calves is born in the spring, and he avoids having calves born in the heat of summer or the middle of winter.

ucts the Palmer’s grass-fed beef cattle provide to the customers. Twenty-yearold Jessie is able to run a successful Etsy shop selling cosmetic products made from beef by-products. Stacie brings tallow and bones home from the butcher. While the bones are sold as dog treats, the tallow is used by Jessie to make value-added cosmetics and sold through her Etsy shop.

Although some people may shy away from a grass-fed label, the Palmers have customers who brand them as “their farmers,” only buying beef from their farm. “I don’t want to be able to tell the difference between my grass-fed beef and a neighbor’s grain-finished beef,” Mike remarked. “People think if it’s not grain-finished, it’s not good. We are working to change that thought around here.”

MOO-ving forward

C.J. Weddle

“In the spring, we have the time and grass to move them every day,” he said. “But when tobacco harvest starts, we usually give them a bigger paddock and leave them on it longer.” A flail chopper allows Mike to utilize the forages on rented farms that do not have the best fences. Without moving his cattle to the rented acres, he chops and feeds as much forage as he needs. Mike also has a bunker silo that he fills with ryegrass. This silage, coupled with the dry hay that he bales, provides for the finishing animals during the two to three months of winter. The goal at Palmer Farms is to have cattle finished at the 24-month mark. Some finish at 18 months, while others take 26 months. “The range of finishing time works out well for us since we only process two head at a time,” he noted. “It wouldn’t be practical for all of the cattle to finish in the same month and have to wait several more months before we can get them to the butcher.” Palmer Farms hosted a pasture walk this past summer as part of the 2020 Western Kentucky Summer Forage Tour, which focused on forages for grass-fed beef. Showcasing a University of Kentucky demonstration forage plot, the Palmers also highlighted their diverse strategies using crabgrass and grass silage.

Production and marketing duties are shared by members of the Palmer family. From the left are Teshome, Jessie, Stacey, and Mike.

Build client relationships The Palmers do not depend on traditional advertising; rather, they believe in partnering with charities and other organizations for fundraising events and building relationships with those communities. Currently featured on their website is 147 Million Orphans, a faith-based group whose mission is to provide food, water, medicine, and shelter to some of the most vulnerable people on earth. “We adopted our son, Teshome, from Ethiopia,” Stacie said. “So, our hearts are very close to adoption and agencies helping orphans.” Social media is another marketing option that Stacie has nearly mastered. By joining a couple of Facebook groups, she has developed strong relationships with these customers. The loyalty and support of these groups has resulted in Stacie and her daughter, Jessie, loading their van with coolers packed with grass-fed beef and taking a road trip to Evansville, Ind., for bulk order deliveries once a month. At the farmers market, the Palmers focus on customer relations. “Mike and I chat with our regulars and introduce our farm and products to potential new customers,” she said. Cuts of meats are not the only prod-

Taking things one season at a time, the Palmers always look for opportunities. “If you don’t find opportunities and try new things, there is no room for growth or improvement,” Mike said. “You will do the same thing, the same way, over and over.” One of the opportunities that Mike looks for is research projects and results. “There are grants for on-farm research projects,” he noted. He considers it a win for the operation to be an active part of research while learning how his farm can perform and benefit. A personal project he would like to see on his farm entails a sheltered lot for finishing grass-fed beef. Having the flail chopper and wagon, grass silage, hay, and the space to do it, Mike theorized that he can achieve consistent gains year-round by providing more comfortable conditions with a sheltered lot. “In the summer, the cattle would have shade,” Mike explained. “In the winter, they would have protection from the wind and rain. I have the equipment and forages to provide greenchop during the peak growth season or store it as hay and silage for later, so the beef will still be grass-fed start to finish.” He added that his plans for this structural addition would only to be to shelter cattle from harsh conditions or to use during his calving seasons. In favorable weather, Mike expects to have all of his cattle out on pasture. Mike and Stacie plan to raise grass-fed beef for many more years. Their children are weighing career options, but should they choose to return to the farm, their helping hands will be welcomed. •

For more information on Palmer Farms and the products offered, visit palmerfarmsbeef.com, find them on Facebook at Palmer Farms Grass Fed Beef, or shop Jessie’s Etsy page at etsy.com/shop/ hickorygrovecorner. March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 23


by Jason Banta


Mike Rankin


ORAGES and grazing programs serve as the foundation of most cow-calf operations; thus, sound grazing strategies and forage management practices are vital for operational success. The primary goal of a good forage program should be to cost effectively maximize the number of days cows can graze and perform well with limited or no protein or energy supplementation. A forage program should be customized to each operation, its soil types, climatic conditions, and resources. There are no magic bullets when it comes to developing and maintaining a good forage program. Instead, success comes from paying attention to the details, planning ahead, and making well-informed, science-based decisions. This article will use an example cow-calf operation in central Texas to illustrate ways to develop a successful forage plan. This example could apply to many operations across the Southeast. Additionally, it can provide ideas for other areas of the country, even though different forage species and timing would apply. One of the first steps in developing a good forage program is understanding the climatic conditions for your area. How long is the growing season for the perennial forage(s) that will serve as the base for the operation? What is the average annual rainfall, and how is it 24 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

distributed throughout the year? When is the average first killing frost? Answering these questions along with others is critical to selecting appropriate forages and developing a forage program that allows for grazing during as much of the year as possible. For this example, bermudagrass will be used as the perennial forage that will serve as the base. In central Texas, bermudagrass generally produces meaningful growth from May through October. That means there are five and a half to six additional months that need to be filled with other grazing options, if possible.

Stockpile and use annuals Stockpiled bermudagrass will generally provide an additional six weeks of grazing from the first killing frost around November 15 until about January 1. Stockpiled bermudagrass should generally be utilized within about six weeks after the first killing frost in moderate- to high-rainfall areas. After about six weeks, microbial growth on the stockpiled forage will cause degradation and reduce palatability. Additionally, depending on the amount of rain, it may also end up laying on the ground. Stockpiled forages can last much longer in more arid areas. Planting a cool-season annual like ryegrass on part of the operation can

provide high-quality forage from February through May. So, in this example with just two forages (bermudagrass and ryegrass), 10 to 11 months of grazing can be achieved with proper grazing management, appropriate fertilization, and average weather conditions. Hay would be used to fill in the gap from the end of stockpiled grazing until the ryegrass is ready for full-time grazing. Prior to grazing the ryegrass full-time, it can be limit grazed in December and January along with feeding hay. If the environment is conducive to ryegrass, it can be a very cost-effective option and be produced for about $25 to $50 per ton of dry matter, depending on yield, nitrogen cost, seed cost, and planting expenses. To make a forage system like this work requires proper stocking and good grazing management. Unfortunately, many forage programs are not successful because an operation is overstocked for its capacity or for the current level of management.

JASON BANTA The author is a beef cattle specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension based in Overton, Texas.

The USDA Web Soil Survey can be used to help determine grazeable acres. Grazeable acres can be significantly lower than the total number of acres because of woods, roads, ponds, lakes, barns, houses, and other situations that prevent forage production or grazing. The area of interest tool can be used to measure the size of pastures, as well as the wooded areas and ponds. Additionally, the Web Soil Survey is a good way to identify different soils in regard to how they vary in yield potential and if they are suited for a particular forage species.

Todd Garrett

Rest and regrow

Winter annuals (right) provide a good complement to warm-season perennial pastures.

Although rotational grazing is not the magic bullet some would like it to be, it is a critical part of a good forage program. Rotation allows forages to rest and regrow. Forages that have not been grazed too short will regrow faster and produce more forage over the season. Keeping the rotation program simple works best for most operations. In the example used above, having three to six pastures to rotate among would work

well. This allows various pastures to be cut for hay, stockpiled, or overseeded with a cool-season annual. Producing quality hay is also a component of many good grazing plans. When possible, it is better to have multiple fields that can be grazed or cut for hay instead of a single hayfield. This allows for flexibility if weather conditions prevent timely hay harvest. Graze the field that was ready for harvest and allow another field

to grow and then be cut for hay. A grazing program that results in adequate forage, which allows the cows to selectively graze the top 1/3 to 1/2 of the plant, will lead to cows in better body condition, calves with improved weaning weights, and reduced costs. Continually evaluate your forage program to see how grazing management might be improved, or if adding another adapted forage species could extend the grazing season. •










Contact Mountain View Seeds at 503.588.7333 for a free 2021 MVS Forage & Cover Crop Guide www.mtviewseeds.com March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 25


by Adam Verner

“Sheepsfoot” rollers are commonly used in the construction industry. These machines have now found utility in packing grass silages.

Mike Rankin

Packing grass offers a unique challenge S THE weather starts to warm up for most of the country, farmers begin to get restless after a long winter of shop hours. Winter forage season has already begun in the South, and it can be one of the most dreaded times of the year for silage harvesters. After a few adult beverages, most custom operators will tell you that the only reason they cut winter annuals is to make sure they can harvest corn silage later in the year. It takes a lot of extra equipment and labor to get annual forages into the bunk. One thing that has changed over the past decade is how these annuals are stored. Twenty years ago, upright silos provided the most common structure to store both corn and forage grasses. Now, most silo blowers have a tough time keeping up with the high-horsepower choppers. You can still see many of these upright silos as you drive through the countryside, but most of them are no longer in use. These days, it’s more common to see large bunker silos or piles that are covered with plastic and tires. Silage 26 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

bags are also popular for storing winter annual forages.

Think construction equipment Large silage bunkers and piles allow room to dump several truckloads of forage at one time and have numerous tractors on the pile. One relatively new piece of equipment being used for packing grasses is a vibratory roller. These “sheepsfoot” rollers have become a mainstay for many larger operations. Such rollers are commonly found on construction sites or prepping a roadbed for paving. Now, some of these construction companies are renting out multiple units each season for the purpose of compacting forage. Combine the overall weight of these machines with the vibrations, and they do an excellent job compressing a pile of silage. Many producers in the South prefer these rollers to a tractor with no blade.

Specialized grass blade A bunker or silage pit is my preferred storage structure for grass crops. The sides help to contain the

madness that is pushing grass over a pile. There are numerous configurations and types of push blades on the market, but there are a few specifically designed for grass. These have both a fork and push blade and are often referred to as buck rakes. With these fork-blade combo attachments, you can scoop under the dumped pile and carry the grass to the top of the pile. You then use a push-off rake to gradually ease off the grass as you work to the top. This keeps the silage from rolling under the blade and disturbing the packaged forage beneath it. There are several manufactures of these attachments on the market. In southern Georgia and northern Florida, a silage pit is generally not possible because the land is flat and our soils are sandy, which doesn’t provide for stable pit sides. For this reason, many producers have been using silage bags for all their spring-harvested wheat, oats, and ryegrass. Today’s large baggers do a good job keeping up with the large choppers, although sometimes when starting a new bag there can be a backup of trucks. No matter which way your operation goes about it, storing your silage must be done, and it must be done right. Grasses offer some unique challenges. All of that hard work, fertilizer, water, and time can go to waste if your silage is not packed and covered properly. Throwing away bad silage is akin to throwing away money. Take some extra time to plan and maybe rent a sheepsfoot roller or invest in a new silage rake to make your 2021 crop the best you have ever stored. •

ADAM VERNER The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

Mike Rankin



VERY year, there is a lot of lodged forage due to delayed harvests caused by heavy winds and rain associated with severe storms. Lodging clearly represents a loss; however, the loss can be minimized with appropriate mowing methodology. First, it is important to consider the types of lodging that may have occurred as the degree of loss and mowing recommendations will vary slightly: 1. Field with stems at 45-degree angle (plus or minus) 2. Field with stems at less than 10- or 15-degree angle from ground 3. Field lodged with lower stems flat to ground and regrowth vertical Most of these recommendations add to the expense and labor of harvesting lodged forage. Some may be more feasible in certain situations than others. Methods of enhancing harvesting lodged forage include: Ensure that knives are sharp. This is especially true for disc mowers. Use knives with a greater angle on the disc mower (for example, going from 7- to 14-degree angled knives). Changing knives on a disc mower used to take several hours. Now, many disc mower manufacturers have quick-change blades that minimize blade change time to a few seconds per blade (see photo).

Use crop lifters on discs (see photo). Mow against the direction of lodging. This will clearly result in the greatest pickup of lodged forage by the mower-conditioner but will add significantly to the time to harvest a field. Also, some fields don’t lend themselves to harvesting in one direction due to shape, size, or topography.

A mower disc with a quick detach for changing blades. Arrow points to the lifter on the disc.

Lower the cutter height. The general recommendation is to harvest alfalfa at a 3-inch cutting height and most cool-season grasses (except ryegrass) at 4 inches. Cutting lower may be an option for lodged forage to improve the pickup efficiency, but it will also result in more ash in the harvested forage. The lower cutting height will also reduce the regrowth rate of cool-season grasses since carbohydrates for regrowth are stored in aboveground

growth. Cutting lower with a disc mower may also result in alfalfa crown damage if cut too close to the ground. Check for proper flotation pressure after adjusting cut height so knives are not lower than intended. Lowering cutting height is most effective for Lodging Conditions 1 and 3 described above. Reduce the ground speed to allow for the pickup of lodged forage. This is especially true for Lodging Conditions 2 and 3. Additionally, keep disc speed high to enhance forage pickup by mower. A mower with a reel will pick up additional lodged forage for Lodging Conditions 1 and 3 described above. Using one or more of the above recommendations will enhance the harvested yield from lodged fields. The methods will also leave less residue in the field. This residue reduces the quality of the next harvest; it can also serve as a source of inoculum for diseases causing leaf drop and yield loss in the next harvest. •

DAN UNDERSANDER The author is a professor emeritus and former extension forage specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 27


by Matt Akins

Comparison of sorghum-sudangrass regrowth after a 3-inch or 6-inch cut height.

Sorting out some sorghum decisions


N THE past few years, there has been growing interest in warm-season annual forages, including forage sorghum, sudangrass, and sorghum-sudangrass. This is driven by more alternative forages being planted after a perennial crop winterkills, preferred use as beef cow and dairy heifer forage, and as a component in “cocktail” forage mixes. To address this interest, we have continued to initiate sorghum forage research centered on production practices and fertility needs. The past two years, we have examined how cutting height affects multi-cut yields and how potassium (K) fertilizer rates affect single-cut yields and K removal.

High or low cut? The typical cutting height recommendation for sorghum-sudangrass is to leave two nodes or about 6 inches of stubble to enhance regrowth. However, some recommendations suggest to cut lower in an effort to boost yields and promote tillering from plant crowns. We tested three sorghum-sudangrass hybrids with different traits: conventional, photoperiod-sensitive (PPS), and brown midrib (BMR). We planted in early to mid-June at 7- or 7.5-inch row spacings. The seeding rate was 18 pounds of live seed per acre with seeding rate adjustments made due to 28 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

differences in germination rate. The first harvest was taken off leaving a 3- or 6-inch stubble height, and the second harvest was cut at 3 inches since regrowth was not expected. In 2019, harvests were taken in early August and again in October after a killing frost. In 2020, harvests were taken in late July and late August. Plant height at harvest ranged from 30 to 40 inches for the BMR and 40 to 60 inches for the conventional and PPS hybrids. In 2019, the Marshfield, Wis., plots had poor establishment due to high rainfall, which caused soil crusting. These field plots had to be abandoned. As expected, yields at Hancock, Wis., were better than Marshfield due to its drier soil conditions, and we harvested an additional 1 to 1.5 tons of dry matter (DM) per acre. Cutting height had minimal impact across both years and locations with about 0.25 tons greater total DM yield for the 3-inch cutting height. Figure 1 shows a higher yield for the first harvest, but this was driven by a greater first harvest yield in 2019 that was taken later (early August with 50 to 55 days of growth) with less heat units available for later regrowth. In 2020, yields were more evenly distributed across the two cuttings in late July (40 to 45 days of growth) and late August (30 to 35 days of regrowth). There were differences in plant

regrowth (see photo), with greater initial growth from stems from the 6-inch height and more tillering from the plant base for the 3-inch height. When using a shorter cutting height, consider that this may allow for more disease and plant death due to soil contamination of lower cut stems. We did observe some plant death for the shorter cut height, but it seemed to not affect the regrowth yield compared to 6-inch height. With the risk of plant damage and only a small improvement in yield at a shorter cutting height, a 6-inch cut height is still recommended based on these data. The higher cut would also likely result in greater forage quality, which we are currently evaluating.

K is okay Potassium fertility recommendations are often high for sorghum forages. Using Wisconsin recommendations based on optimum soil test potash (K 20) levels and a 5 to 7 tons per acre DM

MATT AKINS The author is an extension dairy scientist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I also recently received questions about options for a single harvest of sorghum forages. This option maximizes yield but comes with the risk of snow and lodging when needing a killing frost for dry down. If planted by early June and with good growing conditions, we have observed that sorghums will mature and be dry enough for direct harvest by mid- to late October. Often this coincides with a killing frost, which helps to enhance dry down, but be sure to harvest after seven to 10 days to minimize prussic acid concerns. This strategy can work for early maturing forage sorghums or sorghum-sudangrass, but not with pho-

Warm-season summer annuals such as sorghum-sudangrass provide a good Plan B when a perennial crop winterkills.

toperiod sensitive hybrids. Another option that can work well is to plant sorghum-sudangrass in early to mid-June and allow it to grow until late August or early September, then harvest it by cutting and wilting for two to three days before chopping as silage. Wide-swathing is critical to help

the leaves dry quickly, as the stems will likely not dry significantly. This option also opens up the ability to apply manure and plant a winter cereal grain forage crop (triticale or rye) for harvest the following spring. If you’re worried about lodging risk, this likely is a good choice for you. •

Figure 1: Conventional, photoperiod-sensitive, or BMR sorghum-sudangrass forage yield using a 3-inch or 6-inch cut height.

Yield, tons DM/acre

Single-cut boosts yields

Mike Rankin

4.50 4.00 3.50 3.00 2.50 2.00 1.50 1.00 0.50 0.00

■ Harvest 1

Conv 3 inch

Conv 6 inch

■ Harvest 2

PPS 3 inch

■ Total

PPS 6 inch

BMR 3 inch

BMR 6 inch

Figure 2: K 20 removal by a sorghum-sudangrass crop (single harvest) when fertilized with different rates of potassium.

K 2O removal, lbs./acre

yield, the recommended amount of K 20 fertilizer to apply is about 350 pounds per acre. In our study at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station, we tested six rates of K 20 fertilizer (0, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 pounds per acre of K 2O) using potash on a single-cut sorghum-sudangrass crop. The crop was seeded at 18 pounds of live seed per acre in 15-inch rows with a no-till drill and a total of 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre. We harvested in late October after a killing frost to maximize yield. Yields (8 to 9 tons of DM per acre) were similar across treatments, likely due to already optimal soil K levels. If we had done this work on low K soils, we may have seen some effect of fertility. There was a slight increase in forage K content, but the forage K levels were already low due to the crop’s mature state (1% to 1.5% K). When we looked at the K 20 removal, we did see some boost in removal with added potash but only up to 300 pounds of K 20 per acre (Figure 2). At this level, the removal rate (280 pounds) was close to the K 20 applied and would maintain soil levels. In 2020, we also evaluated using a multi-cut system, but once again, we noted no difference in forage yield. We are still working on mineral analysis to see if K levels increased. This data shows that sorghum-sudangrass will take up additional K as long as it’s available, but yield may not respond if soil K is adequate. Maintaining soil nutrients is important for subsequent crops as the soil will become depleted if nutrients are not added from manure or fertilizer applications.

300 250 200 150 100 50 0



200 300 K 2O applied, lbs./acre



March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 29

Regenerative systems still demand pest management by James Locke


HE philosophies of regenerative agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and holistic agriculture are generating a great deal of interest these days. While in some people’s minds these systems equate to zero, or very few production inputs, in truth, they all use a variety of inputs that align with their objectives. An important component of each philosophy is following integrated pest management (IPM) principles to select the right tactics to address pest problems. While there are numerous definitions of IPM, a good one offered by North Carolina State Extension is: “Integrated Pest Management is a sustainable approach to managing pests that combines multiple approaches, including pest prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression (PAMS) in

30 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

a manner that minimizes public health, economic, and environmental risk.” Pests include any organism that can cause yield or quality losses. While insects, weeds, and diseases are the most commonly thought of pests, the same management principles apply to every pest — from microscopic parasitic nematodes to invasive trees.

Prevent the pest Preventing a pest from becoming established in the first place is clearly the most effective approach to pest management, particularly in regard to invasive or non-native pests. If a pest is never established, it obviously cannot cause yield or quality losses. Quarantines or exclusion zones are often the first line of defense when an invasive pest threatens. Should an invasive pest become established, implementing an aggressive eradication program to prevent the pest from per-

sisting in the area may be necessary for effective long-term pest prevention.

Avoid the pest Use sound cultural practices to keep an existing pest population below its economic or action threshold. A good definition of the economic or action threshold is “the pest density at which management action should be taken to prevent an increasing pest population from reaching the economic injury level.” A few avoidance approaches for forages include:

JAMES LOCKE The author is a planned consultation manager and senior soils and crops consultant with the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Okla.

Noble Research Institute

Routinely scout pastures for weeds, insects, and diseases. This enables producers the ability to know if a pest population is getting worse or better.

• Maintain vigorous forage growth that competes with weeds and is able to withstand insects or diseases without significant yield or quality losses. • Add a diversity of forage species to dilute insect host plants and reduce opportunities for weed establishment. • Utilize forage species or varieties with genetic resistance to anticipated insects or diseases. • Maintain populations of beneficial species to limit development of weed and insect infestations.

Monitor the pest Characterize the presence or absence, identity, and distribution of pest and beneficial populations. Without monitoring, there is no way to know if pest or beneficial populations are present, if the beneficial population is adequate to suppress a pest population, or if a pest population is approaching the economic threshold. A few methods for monitoring include: • In-field, boots-on-the-ground scouting for weeds, insects, and signs of disease. • Utilizing weather models to predict disease or insect outbreaks. • Using traps to determine when insect pests are present.

Suppress the pest Apply tactics to keep a pest below its economic or action threshold or return it to that level when the prevention and avoidance approaches have failed. Suppression tactics should not be implemented unless monitoring has shown they are necessary. A few suppression tactics for forages include: • Implement crop rotations to break disease or insect life cycles or allow use of alternative herbicides to control problem weeds. • Add trap or cover crops to reduce anticipated insect or weed pressure. • Time harvest or grazing events to disrupt insect or disease cycles. • As a last resort, use synthetic or biological pesticides to manage weeds, insects, and diseases. While synthetic and biological pesticides can be used in regenerative, sustainable, and holistic systems, they should only be used when their impact on non-target species and other side effects have been carefully considered. The pesticide application can be justified if the yield or quality losses

caused by the pest exceed the economic or ecological value of the non-target or other side effects. However, a pesticide application is not justified if it will control the pest but also cause more harm than good in the big picture.

Find underlying causes In addition to using an IPM philosophy when making pest management decisions, it is important to consider why a pest problem exists in the first place. Is the pest there because of management, or is it a threat that we have no control over? A good example of a management-caused pest problem is a weed infestation due to overgrazing. Over-

Overgrazing opens the door for weeds to establish and outcompete desirable species.

grazing exposes bare soil for an extended amount of time and gives weeds the space and sunlight to get established. If a good forage stubble height and solid sod cover are maintained, weeds don’t have the same opportunity to become a problem. One example of a pest problem not caused by management is a fall armyworm outbreak. Fall armyworms do not overwinter in areas where it freezes. They migrate from south to north as repeating generations from the spring until a killing freeze occurs in their current location. A well-managed bermudagrass or wheat pasture, for example, is attractive to these breeding moths as they move north, and they will lay eggs. This can result in a population that could potentially exceed the economic or action threshold. In this situation, there are no prevention or avoidance tactics to use, so we must use monitoring to determine

if a suppression tactic is justified. If monitoring shows a suppression tactic is justified according to IPM principles, then that tactic, potentially including a pesticide application, is justified.

What is a pest? While bugs crawling on your forage crop may concern you, are they really a pest if they aren’t causing yield or quality loss? It could be that they are benign or even beneficial insects. Is a plant that is in your field but is not part of your intended base forage really a weed? If it is causing yield or quality loss, then yes; it should be managed according to IPM principles. If it is a plant

Noble Research Institute

that contributes to forage volume or quality and can be grazed, then it contributes to your forage diversity and is not a weed. This is one reason why it is important to know the major plants in your pastures and their uses. If you’d like help identifying your plants, you may be interested in our book, Grasses of the Great Plains: A Pictorial Guide. Find more information at www.noble.org/news/ educational-publications. Pest management in regenerative, sustainable, and holistic agricultural systems presents additional challenges compared to indiscriminate pesticide application programs. However, the potential economic and ecological benefits are well documented. Two excellent sources for more information on IPM include the National Integrated Pest Management Database at https://ipmdata.ipmcenters.org and the IPM Institute of North America at https://ipminstitute.org. • March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 31



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H-2A VISA WORKERS — Wives and children (10) month family guest visas. Reward and motivate your key H2-A/H2-B employees. Keep worker’s families together in the United States during COVID-19 travel restrictions. Great references. Head Honchos – Todd Miller at (210) 695-1648 or /41 www.mifamilia-visa.com. HEHONC

LEGAL • RELIABLE • HARDWORKING — When you are ready to get SERIOUS about getting SERIOUS workers. Mexico & South Africa (English speaking — experienced operators). Todd Miller (210) 695-1648 • www. /26 headhonchosllc.com.

FARM EQUIPMENT BALEWAGONS: New Holland self-propelled & pull-type models/parts/tires/manuals. Can finance/deliver. 208-880-2889, /15 www.balewagon.com JAWIBA

Advertise in the Buyer’s Mart Section For more information contact: Kim Zilverberg Kzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jenna Zilverberg Jzilverberg@hayandforage.com


March 2021 | hayandforage.com | 37

FORAGE IQ Novel Tall Fescue Renovation Workshops March 18, Athens, Ga. March 23, Mt. Vernon, Mo. March 25, Lexington, Ky. Details: grasslandrenewal.org/ education

Cool-season Forage Tour March 19, Starkville, Miss. Details: bit.ly/MSForages2021CSFT

Coastal Plain Beef Cattle Field Day March 26, Newton, Miss. Details: bit.ly/HFG-MSbeef

Tri-State Virtual Dairy Nutrition Conference April 19 to 21 Details: www.tristatedairy.org

Cattle Industry Convention NCBA Trade Show August 10 to 12, Nashville, Tenn. Details: convention.ncba.org

Have you found us yet? Find us on Facebook @HayandForageGrower 38 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021


Hay prices steady to stronger Cuttings of alfalfa are being made in California’s low desert, which marks the beginning of the haymaking season. Elsewhere in the U.S., old crop hay prices are holding steady to slightly above one year ago. High grain prices should continue to support high hay prices. Inventories of Supreme and Premium hay are disappearing rapidly or are

nearly nonexistent in some areas. It’s too early to gauge if winterkill will be an issue coming into the 2021 season or if growers will choose to turn some hay acres into grain acres. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of the end of February. Prices are FOB barn/stack unless otherwise noted. •

For weekly updated hay prices, go to “USDA Hay Prices” at hayandforage.com Supreme-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (northern SJV) Colorado (southeast) Kansas (northwest) Kansas (southwest) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Minnesota (Sauk Centre)-lrb Missouri Nebraska (central) Oklahoma (western) Oregon (Lake County) Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota Texas (Panhandle) Texas (west)-ssb Wyoming (eastern) Premium-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (northern SJV) Colorado (southeast) Idaho (southeast) Iowa Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (northeast) Kansas (south central) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Montana-ssb Nebraska (eastern) Oklahoma (northwestern) Oregon (eastern) Oregon (Klamath Basin)-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota Texas (Panhandle) Washington Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (western)-ssb Good-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (Sacramento Valley) Idaho (eastern) Iowa (Rock Valley) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (north central) Kansas (south central)-lrb Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Minnesota (Pipestone)-ssb Missouri Montana Nebraska (eastern)-lrb Nebraska (western)-lrb Oregon (Lake County)

Price $/ton Pennsylvania (southeast) 295 (d) South Dakota-lrb 285-300 (d) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb 240-250 Texas (Panhandle) 220 Washington 190-230 Wisconsin (Lancaster)-lrb 210-235 Fair-quality alfalfa 155 California (intermountain)-ssb 200-250 California (northern SJV) 220 Idaho (south central) 190 Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb 220-225 Kansas (northwest)-lrb 420 Kansas (northeast) 240 Minnesota (Sauk Centre) 270-290 (d) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb 275-300 Missouri 220 Montana South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb 190 Washington 275 (d) Bermudagrass hay 200-250 Alabama-Good lrb 165-170 Alabama-Premium lrb 210-325 (d) California (southeast)-Premium ssb 180-193 Texas (central)-Premium ssb 185 Texas (south)-Fair/Good lrb 175 Bromegrass hay 160-200 Iowa-Good/Premium lrb 160-200 Kansas (southeast)-Premium 225 Kansas (south central)-Good lrb 195 Nebraska (eastern)-Good lrb 180 Orchardgrass hay 185 California (intermountain)-Premium ssb 190 Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-Premium ssb 290-400 Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium 200 Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good 250-260 (d) Washington-Premium ssb 175 Timothy hay 240-250 Montana-Premium ssb 225 Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good 240 (d) Washington-Premium 240 (d) Wyoming (western)-Premium ssb 155 Oat hay 135-160 California (northern SJV)-Good 135-148 Minnesota (Pipestone)-Fair lrb 150 South Dakota (Corsica)-Fair lrb 130 (d) Straw 120-180 Colorado (northeast) 145 Idaho (southeast) 120-160 Iowa 150-180 Kansas (northeast) 120-125 Minnesota (Sauk Centre) 170-190 Pennsylvania (southeast)-ssb 170 South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb

Abbreviations: d=delivered, lrb=large round bales, ssb=small square bales, o=organic

205-295 160 (d) 115-120 240-245 (d) 165-170 140-175 150 210 (d) 150-155 100-128 95 160 100-155 115-120 100-125 130-140 98 135-160 60-90 100-133 190-195 280-330 120-130 80 (d) 140 75-100 110 (d) 300 250-275 265-350 205-280 240 240 290 225-260 240 300 200 (d) 80 63 120 (d) 45 200 (d) 100 60-90 140-180 48


Mower Conditioners

10’2” - 14’4” working widths

FAST MOWING, FAST DRYDOWN KUHN FC 60 TC Series mower conditioners offer fast, clean mowing of heavy grasses and delicate forage crops, combined with quick drydown from effective conditioning. With the broadest range of swath width settings (2’11” to 11’9”), FC TC mower conditioners offer unmatched adaptability to different practices and field conditions.

Standard drawbar or 2-point Gyrodine® Finger, rubber roller or steel roller swivel hitch for tight turns conditioning - adjustable for any crop

Visit our website to locate a Dealer near you! Lubed-for-life Optidisc ® cutterbar and Fast-Fit ® blades

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Allows wide spreading to over 90% of cut width for accelerated drydown

DEMAND HESSTON HAY. Getting good hay in on time takes planning, hard work and the right tools, like the Hesston by Massey Ferguson® WR9900 Series windrower. This durable workhorse gives you the extra power and consistent cutting you need to hit the narrowest harvest windows with peak efficiency, plus a comfortable ride makes the long days a little easier.

Don’t demand anything less. Demand Hesston hay. Learn more at www.masseyferguson.us, or visit your Massey Ferguson dealer.

©2021 AGCO Corporation. Massey Ferguson is a worldwide brand of AGCO Corporation. Hesston is a brand of AGCO. AGCO, Massey Ferguson and Hesston are trademarks of AGCO. All rights reserved.

74254_MF-HS_HayForage_Mar_Ad_a1.indd 1

2/15/21 12:16 PM

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plant corpses in the hay. Time harvest based on alfalfa growth and maturity. Take the first cutting according to the maturity of the alfalfa, not the companion crop. If excessive competition between the companion crop and alfalfa is evident, harvest can occur early to allow more light to reach the developing alfalfa plants. Lodging of the small grain companion crop can smother alfalfa seedlings and can be minimized with management practices such as low seeding rates, no nitrogen fertilizer, and short cultivars. If lodging occurs, cut and remove the crop as soon as possible to protect the young alfalfa stand. The primary objective of seeding alfalfa, regardless of whether a companion crop is used, is to establish a dense, vigorous, and long-lived alfalfa stand. The short-term benefits of companion crops should not come at the expense of the long-term potential of the alfalfa. Excessive plant competition, and resulting loss of alfalfa productivity, can be avoided by managing fields to favor alfalfa growth rather than the companion crop. •


10 lbs. oats

Herbicide 20 lbs. oats

40 lbs. oats

This visual of plant separations depicts what to expect with various alfalfa establishment strategies. They were cut from a 2-foot square subplot prior to first cutting in the seeding year. From left to right in each photo are alfalfa, oats, and weeds, assuming all three were present.

Decades of killer hits like... • • • • • •

Our fanbase uses Rozol for rodent challenges because we’ve been listening and collaborating with them for 50 years. We help clean up farms and ranches with the most knowledgeable agricultural rodent control team in the industry and a catalogue of products that are as forward-thinking today as when they first hit the scene.

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12 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

Rozol Ground Squirrel Bait* Rozol Prairie Dog Bait* Rozol Burrow Builder* Rozol Pocket Gopher Bait Rozol Vole Bait* Rozol Pellets

Hard-hitting classics endure when you get it right the first time.

Mike Rankin

Straw can add revenue for haymakers by Mike Rankin


ast summer, my neighbor purchased a new push lawn mower and parked his old lawn mower in the front yard by the road. The old model was both leaking and burning oil. “Somebody will take it,” he told me, but I had my doubts. For one thing, he didn’t even put a “free” sign on it. Sure enough, within a couple of hours, a guy stopped, talked to my neighbor, was told of the mower’s warts, and then happily loaded it into the back of his truck. He was now the proud owner of a vintage lawn mower that would leave a puddle of oil on his garage floor. I guess it’s true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That certainly seems to be the case for wheat straw, as it has become a valued commodity in many markets and no longer is worthy of a “trash” designation. It’s not uncommon for haymakers to contract with their wheat-growing neighbors to see if they can buy and bale the straw off their fields. Most wheat farmers are happy to oblige either because they want the extra income or prefer not to deal with the additional plant residue.

A different market For many haymakers, straw-baling season is equivalent to a summer vacation. It comes with a much-reduced stress level of maturity concerns, rain, slow dry down, and harvest moisture 20 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2021

that all come with making hay. Good, clean wheat straw is just a joy to bale, or at least that’s been my experience. The straw market has changed drastically over the years. For decades, it was purely a bedding product. Although it’s still used for bedding today, most dairy farms have found better bedding alternatives for their cows, especially in freestall barns. However, all was not lost for the straw market. In fact, it’s gotten better . . . a lot better. Many of those same cows that now lie on sand are eating straw as a component of their daily total mixed ration (TMR). The straw adds physically effective fiber that helps counteract some low-fiber forages that are often produced and fed. Essentially, the straw market has transformed from a bedding market to a feedstuff market. It also adds significant value-added income for growing wheat.

The value of straw It’s not uncommon that wheat growers will want to know the value of the straw as it lies in the field once the combine has rolled through. The place to start with this question is nutrient value. Many university-based estimates for the nutrient fertilizer equivalent of wheat straw can be found, but these estimates vary among states. Most of this variation is probably due to the inherent differences of soils and management practices that prevail in various regions. For example, nitrogen fertilization can impact the plant’s nitrogen content, and

the height of straw stubble also will affect the nutrient concentrations of the harvested straw. These days, fertilizer prices are relatively low compared to years gone by, but they have been on an upward trend recently. With nitrogen valued at 43 cents per unit, P2O5 at 34 cents per unit, and K 2O at 32 cents per unit, then the fertilizer value of wheat straw with 15 pounds of nitrogen, 4 pounds of P2O5, and 25 pounds of K 2O per ton is about $15 on a dry matter basis. If left unbaled on the field, the nitrogen in wheat straw will not be immediately available to plants. It will first have to be mineralized by microorganisms and converted to ammonium and nitrate. In fact, leaving the residue on the field will tie up additional nitrogen in the short term as the mineralization process takes place. Wheat straw has an extremely high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Wheat residue is a good source of carbon that will ultimately contribute to a soil’s organic matter content. This is difficult to put a dollar value on, but it is a consideration if wheat is grown repeatedly on a particular field and the residue is always removed. The occasional removal of straw (for example, once in a rotation) will likely have very little impact on the soil’s long-term organic matter content.

Other considerations Straw is not totally immune to the effects of rain. The best quality straw, both chemically and visually, is always that which gets baled as soon after the grain harvest as possible, assuming the moisture concentration is low enough to bale. Weedy straw will take longer to dry. Green weeds that are harvested can be cause for bale heating and mold, which could create health issues if the straw is being used for horse bedding. It also will make for a much more unpleasant and dirtier task if the straw is ultimately chopped for feed or bedding. Depending on regional availability and local livestock usage, straw can be a profitable enterprise for haymakers. In some areas, it’s not uncommon to see retail prices approaching that of average to good quality hay. There is also additional income to be made for the wheat grower who has no use for the straw beyond just soil nutrient value. •


PROTEIN & YOUR ROI GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR FIELDS WITH ALFALFA. Alfalfa is key to healthy soils and provides more protein per acre than other cropping choices. It is the ultimate regenerative crop, increasing biodiversity and enhancing ecosystems. Quality alfalfa rations enhance your dairy operation’s overall ROI while strengthening your environmental footprint. JOIN THE REGENERATION NATION MOVEMENT TODAY. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF ALFALFA BY VISITING REGENERATION-NATION.ORG OR TALKING TO YOUR LOCAL SEED REPRESENTATIVE. ©2021, All rights reserved.

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