Monday, August 3, 2020

Is it too early to be thinking about winter feeding?

We are in the middle of hay season and it is never a bad time to plan for winter feeding. Cool-season annuals can help reduce the amount of hay that will need to be fed. Annuals are one season plants and die when it gets too hot or too cold. Winter or cool-season annuals are plants that grow best in cooler conditions and die as the temperatures increase. Ideally, cool-season annuals will be planted by mid-October and you will see the most production in late winter and early spring. Cool-season annuals should be allowed to reach 8 to 15 inches before being grazed and, for optimal regrowth, should not be grazed lower than 3 inches. 

Cereal rye is one of the most common and popular cool-season annuals to plant for grazing. It is the most cold tolerant of all the cool-season annuals.  It is best to use a no-till drill to plant cereal rye, but broadcasting the seed is also an option. 

Annual ryegrass is very easy to establish even when the seed is broadcasted due to the size of the seed. If allowed to go to seed it will reseed itself for next year. Annual ryegrass can persist well into the spring which can hurt your warm-season perennial grass during green-up. 

Triticale is a cross between wheat and cereal rye making it leafy, high yielding, and cold tolerant. Because of its cold tolerance, triticale will be productive in the early and late winter months. Similar to cereal rye, planting with a no-till drill is best but the seed can also be broadcasted.

Oats are a good addition to a cool-season annual mix because they can produce a lot of biomass in a short period of time. They grow best in cool, moist conditions. Spring oats, if planted in the early fall can be utilized for late fall grazing but will most likely get killed if temperatures drop into the teens for a few days in a row. Spring oats can also be planted in the later winter for early spring grazing. Winter oats have better cold tolerance and are usually more productive in the spring than in the fall. Due to the size of oats, it is best to use a no-till drill to plant them. If broadcast, there is a low likelihood of good establishment. 

When considering adding cool-season annuals into your grazing system, it is important to also consider fertilization. It is critical to put down nitrogen at or shortly after planting, 40 to 50 pounds per acre, which will help with tillering (thickness of the stand) and can lead to earlier grazing. Another application of nitrogen should be applied in mid-January to early-February of 25 to 50 pounds, depending on the need for forage at that time. If you decide to put out annual ryegrass another nitrogen application could be warranted in the early spring. Potassium and phosphorus should be applied according to your soil report. It is important to get any recommended lime out 3 to 6 months prior to planting to be sure the soil pH is correct. 

Terminating the cool-season annuals also needs to be considered. If cool-season annuals continue to produce too late into the spring, it will interfere with your warm-season perennial grass as it's breaking dormancy. This can delay green-up and lead to a reduced stand of grass. Most people will make an application of glyphosate when the warm-season perennial grass is still dormant before green-up, usually around early March, at a rate of 16 to 32 ounces per acre. Another option is to allow the cool-season annuals to be grazed below 3 inches which will greatly reduce their ability to regrow. 

Seeds for cool-season annuals can be purchased from multiple different seed companies. Seed can be ordered online. You can also work with your local sales representative or feed store to buy seed. Read the label for the recommended seeding rate and seeding method to get the best results. You can also take a look at the Planting Guide for Forage Crops in NC for recommended planting dates and seeding rates for your area of the state. The Sandhills falls into the Coastal Plains area. If you have more questions about incorporating cool-season annuals into your management system, contact your local livestock Extension agent. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Sugar In Grasses

How long does it take for grasses to use up their sugar storage after the sun sets? Grasses build up sugar storage throughout the day by photosynthesis. The sugar storage allows the grass to continue to grow though the night. The sugar level varies due to numerous factors including weather, stress level of grass, maturity, time of year, and the time of day. Grasses have higher sugar levels later in the day compared to the early hours of the day. It takes several hours after the sun sets for sugar levels to drop. Sugar levels start building back up again with sun exposure.
For horses that have health issues that include sugar sensitivity, allotted time on grass is critical. These heath issues include insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, and a history of laminitis. Horses with these health issues should graze in the early morning hours. It takes several hours for the sugar levels to drop after the sun sets, so avoid grazing before 3 a.m. Because sugar levels start to rebuild with sun exposure, removing sensitive horses from pasture by the late morning is important. If there is substantial cloud cover, sensitive horses may graze longer due to slower photosynthesis and lower sugar levels. Another environmental factor that effects the sugar levels is temperature. When the temperatures overnight reach 40oF and below the plants growth rate slows and stored sugars are not used. This still is a risk for sensitive horses in the early morning hours because the sugar levels are high. It is always good to talk with a vet or nutritionist about a horse with sugar sensitivity and come up with a good grazing plan and supplemental feedstuff rations to keep horses as heathy as possible.
Another factor that plays a part in sugar levels is grass height. Most of the sugar is stored in the bottom 3-4 inches of the plant. It is easy to think that an over grazed pasture would be safe because “there is nothing out there”. Stressed pastures where only the lower part of the plant is available means high sugar levels. This is why rotational grazing is crucial for pastures. Adequate rest periods allow grass to grow and horses are able to graze the taller less sugary parts of the forage. It is better for the plant and horse to stop grazing pastures at 3-4 inches. This not only lowers sugar intake by the horse but also allows the plant enough leave structure to enable regrowth.
With an understanding of pasture grass metabolism and good pasture and grazing management, many horses should be able to graze at least part of the day. If a horse has a sugar sensitive health concern, always consult with a vet or an equine nutritionist for the best grazing plan with supplemental feedstuff rations. A Cooperative Extension Livestock Agent is also capable of helping form a grazing plan after a horse owner has consulted with a vet. The Extension Agent will be useful in providing information on grass varieties and when to plant for different growing seasons.