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Feed Hay Now to Allow Pastures to Recover

September 24, 2012

Feed hay in the fall and save the new green grass for winter is a plan that can result in more feed for drought-stressed cow herds. University of Missouri Extension specialists urge continued feeding of hay to allow pastures to rebuild root reserves to prepare grass for strong growth next spring.

"It’s tempting to turn cows onto new fall growth when rains return after a drought," says Rob Kallenbach, MU forage specialist.

There’s another reason to hold off, says Justin Sexten, MU beef nutritionist. Cows will need high-quality grass when winter brings wet and cold weather. The grass growing this fall can be stockpiled in pastures for winter grazing.

"Also, feeding hay in fall is easier than in winter," Sexten adds. "This winter, cows will harvest the stockpiled grass pasture. You don’t have to start your tractor."

The save-the-grass message is one of many tips offered at MU field days and farmer meetings. The theme is: "Life after drought."

At meetings, Sexten demonstrates adding hydrated lime to cornstalks to break down tough cellulose to release nutrients stored in the corn stover.

Also, poor-quality baled hay can be sealed under a plastic tarp and treated with anhydrous-ammonia gas to boost protein content and improve digestibility.

Cows turned into pastures now will nip off grass as it grows, Kallenbach says. That harms pastures stunted by summer-long drought. "Let the grass grow as long as there is sunshine, heat and available water."

It seems counterintuitive, now that grass growth has returned, Kallenbach admits. But weak stands of grass need fall growth to rebuild reserves for next spring.

During this recovery phase, fall growth can be stockpiled and grazed later.

Sexten adds that fall stockpile grass contains more nutrition than the hay. "Cows will need that higher-quality grass when the weather turns cold."

Delaying grazing is a win-win, he said. The growth will aid pasture recovery. And more stockpile will accumulate than if the grass is grazed as it emerges this fall.

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