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Cool Weather Slows Pasture Grasses

May 8, 2014
Stocker Cattle Grass
The cold spring has taken a hit on grass growth this grazing season.  

The cold spring has taken a hit on grass growth this grazing season.
By: Duane Dailey, University of Missouri

Cool weather this spring slowed growth of cool-season grasses, the main forage in Missouri pastures.

Lack of sunshine and warmth delayed grass leaves, the feed of grazing livestock. By mid-May, the shortened grass begins to set seed heads.

That indicates the end of rapid grass growth for cool-season species.

"Once seeds set, the vegetative growth slows," says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.

"Quality grazing and hay growth comes with elongation of grass leaves," Kallenbach says.

When seed heads reach boot stage, when still encased within the leaves, stem elongation starts, he says. Unlike leaves, stems contain few nutrients. They are built for strength. They don't make edible forage.

"I expect to see a lot of stemmy hay this year," Kallenbach told MU regional agronomist by teleconference this week.

Every year, Kallenbach urges Missourians to start making hay the first week of May. That's when most growth produces leaves, not stems. After that, delayed harvest lowers feed quality as stems increase.

Early cutting of grass for hay becomes more important this year, he says. There's not as much leaf, but there will be more stems in the hay.

Farmers are seeing seed heads even before they see strong stands of grass.

Seed head emergence brings more problems on fescue pastures. The seeds contain higher content of a fungal poison found in most tall fescue in the state. That poison, ergovaline, causes health problems for cattle eating fescue grass or hay with seed heads.

Day length triggers seed heads, not how tall grass has grown, Kallenbach says. With or without leaf growth, seeds start the reproduction cycle at a set time in the season.

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