Hay Bales: Timeliness key to fall forage production

Mike Trammel, ag educator and multi-county agronomist
Pottawatomie County Extension Service

Since we are in the dog days of summer here in Pottawatomie County, it may be hard to think about planting forage for the upcoming fall and spring grazing season. However, now is the time to put a plan into place if you expect a lot of fall or spring forage growth. It’s going to rain this fall and winter, or at least it always has in the past, and you need to take advantage of that rainfall if you want to reduce the amount of hay you will feed this coming winter and spring. All the rainfall we had this spring made it almost imposable to get first cut hay baled and out of the field. Putting a cool-season forage plan in place this fall may go a long way toward helping with next spring’s hay production. So, let’s consider some options for this fall.

Producing adequate amounts of fall forage with cool-season annuals such as small grains (wheat, cereal rye, triticale and oats) is usually proportional to how early the plants come up and how long a growth period they have before cold weather slows or stops their growth. Cool-season forages like wheat, cereal rye, triticale, oats, and annual ryegrass grow slowly when average daily temperatures go below 60°F or when nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. This usually occurs in central Oklahoma sometime during late October or early November. Cool-season annuals planted in mid to late October have little chance of producing much fall forage before the weather shuts growth down. Data from the Oklahoma State University research station at Lahoma showed a difference in fall forage growth of 2400 pounds when planted in late August versus 200 pounds when planted at the end of September (6-year average). As you can see, if you wait too long to plant your cool-season annuals, you run the risk of growing little or no fall forage.

Ideally, all the fertility needs of the crop should already be applied and a firm seed bed prepared prior to Labor Day. Be sure your drill is in working condition and calibrated to the appropriate seeding rate. Seeding rates for cereal rye, wheat or triticale range from 90 to 120 pounds seed per acre. When seeding oats, planting rates should be 80 pounds to the acre. If planting ryegrass, 20 to 25 pounds of seed per acre planted in the last 2 weeks of September is ideal. Be careful not to plant seeds to deeply (no more than 1-inch deep for small grains) since plants will struggle to germinate and emerge from deep planting depths when the soil is still hot. Annual ryegrass is normally just broadcast on top of the ground and either harrowed in or left on top to await a rainfall event. Annual ryegrass can be planted through a drill but should not be planted more than a ¼ inch deep. Small grains planting should be done in the first week of September if fall forage production is to be expected. If you have been lucky enough to get a late August rain you can plant to moisture, if not, the crop should be dusted in with the anticipation of an early September rain. Planting at this time will allow the crop nearly 60 days of growth before cool weather (below 32 degrees) ceases plant growth. With any small grain, early planting is the key to fall forage production.

Once your cool-season forages are up and growing, you need to keep a close eye on the crop to make sure insect pests are not going to rob you of your forage production. Armyworms, grasshoppers, and aphids can become big problems during the September and October time frame. As most you probably already know, armyworms have been terrible this year. Weekly visits to the field to scout for insects should be done to stay ahead of any pests that might try to make your fall forage their home. I would suggest having your sprayer ready to go in case a pest problem arises.

So, consider putting some cool-season forage into your production plans this fall, hay may be in short supply this fall in some areas and a cool-season forage may help you reduce the amount of hay and supplementation you will need to feed this coming winter and spring.

If you have questions concerning this topic or related topics, please contact the OSU Extension Center at 273-7683, stop by the office 14001 Acme Road in Shawnee or visit our website: http://countyext.okstate.edu/pottawatomie/

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