4 Tips On Bridging Pasture Gaps

Cool season forages can help you produce extra forage by the middle of the summer.

Published on: May 1, 2013

If you're hoping to bridge gaps in pasture production this year by planting cool season small grains and fields peas and harvesting them early for forage, there are four things to keep in mind, says Warren Rusche, South Dakota State University Extension field specialist:

•Prior crop history, especially past herbicide usage. Products such as atrazine may significantly limit the ability to plant certain crops.

•Residual nitrate-nitrogen.  The amount in the soil needs to be considered as that will determine how much, if any fertilizer would needs to be applied.

•N limits. Be cautious when applying high levels of N fertilizer to a planned forage crop. Small grains are notorious accumulators of nitrates and excessive nitrate levels could render the forage useless.

Small grains, such spring wheat shown here, produce lots of vegetation early on less moisture than pasture grasses.
Small grains, such spring wheat shown here, produce lots of vegetation early on less moisture than pasture grasses.

•Harvest method. Pea/small grain mixtures lend themselves much more readily to silage than hay. The pea vines can be very difficult to get dry enough for hay unless a crimper is used.

 

Set The Schedule For Hay Quality. Deciding when to make the first cutting of hay sets the stage for the rest of the year. Download our FREE report 10 Hay Farming Basics: Producing A Quality Hay Product today.

 

Good fit
Cool season crops, such as field peas and small grains, can be a good fit in a dry year because they don't require as much moisture as pastures and other crops and because most of the  vegetative growth occurs before the peak of the summer heat.

Forage yield trials with small grains have shown that dry matter yields range from 1.5 to 2 tons/acre when harvested at the boot stage, and up to 3 to 4 tons when harvested at the milk stage. As with any forage crop, there is a trade-off between yield and quality as maturity advances. In a trial at the Northeast Research Farm in South Dakota, early harvested oats (boot stage) tested about 15% crude protein. If harvest was delayed until the soft-dough stage the protein content was reduced to 10%, but the yield increased from 2 to 3.8 tons per acre. Adding peas to the oats increased the CP by about four percentage points with a slightly lower dry matter yield.

A key advantage these crops offer is flexibility, Rusche says.

"Depending on when the forage was harvested and how much moisture we receive, it may be possible to plant a second crop in that field; either a summer annual for additional forage or possibly a short-season oilseed (sunflowers or very early maturity soybeans for example) as a cash crop. Waiting to plant a winter annual either for forage or grain is another option if moisture conditions won't support an additional summer crop," he says.

Set The Schedule For Hay Quality. Deciding when to make the first cutting of hay sets the stage for the rest of the year. Download our FREE report 10 Hay Farming Basics: Producing A Quality Hay Product today.