Winter is coming: Consider cold weather foraging

Published on Saturday, 2 August 2014 22:32 - Written by Chad Gulley Smith County Extension Agent

Livestock producers, wanting to extend the grazing period, might consider winter forage options. Winter forages also can increase animal performance due to their high nutritive value. While winter forages can be expensive to plant and grow, they can be less costly substitutes for energy and protein supplements.

A soil test is important to make sure the pH and fertility are correct for your soil type. The soil test may require an application of limestone to raise the pH in acidic situations to the desired levels. The soil test also will provide a direction on how much nutrient to apply to obtain the desired yield.

Soil pH for legumes and winter forages should be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range. Limestone may need to be applied to raise soil pH to the optimum level for the desired forage or legume. Correcting soil pH before planting also can be helpful for our warm season forages that also desire the correct soil pH to perform well.

Winter forages are typically planted around East Texas four to six weeks before the average first killing frost. If planted too early, warm season forages because of their competitive nature and warm temperatures can result in a poor stand of forage. If planted too late, cool temperatures can affect yields in some cases as well.

When planting winter forages, planting methods vary. Some plant using a seed drill while others look to broadcast seed over established warm season forages. When broadcasting seed, insure good seed to soil contact by grazing or mowing warm season forages short so winter forage seed comes in contact with the soil. In some cases, producers may lightly disc or even totally prepare a seed bed when planting some winter forages in their fields. Seed depth is important and varies from variety to variety.

Some may plant pure stands of winter forage varieties while others plant a mixed stand. A pure stand of ryegrass should be seeded from 25 pounds to 40 pounds per acre from September through November. A mixed stand of ryegrass and small grains should be planted at 20 pounds to 25 pounds of ryegrass to 80 pounds to 120 pounds per acre of acre planting September through November.

Small grains are usually mixed with annual ryegrass to improve late autumn and winter forage production. Rye, oats, wheat and triticale for example are seeded at rates of 80 pounds to 120 pounds per acre. The small grains are typically planted a little deeper in the ground and are planted September through November.

Many producers plant clovers or legumes that fix nitrogen on the plant roots. Pure seed planting of clovers varies from variety to variety. Crimson clover should be planted at a rate of 20 pounds to 25 pounds per acre. Ball clover should be planted at a rate of 2 pounds to 3 pounds per acre. Arrowleaf clover should be planted at a rate of 8 pounds to 15 pounds per acre. Clovers have the potential to fix approximately 70 pounds to 90 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

When planting a mixed ryegrass and clover stand of grass plant the ryegrass as 15 pounds to 25 pounds per acre and the clover at two-thirds the pure seed rate for the variety chosen. Follow the soil tests recommendations for fertilization and soil pH to assist with a successful stand of forage.

In general, cool season annual forages have high nutritive values averaging 70 percent to 80 percent total digestible nutrients and 20 percent to 25 percent crude protein. Some limit graze winter forages initially increasing grazing time throughout the growing season as more forage is available.

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.