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Pasture Issues & Answers


Q: Slow regrowth for hay cut in April?
Many producers cut hay very early, like late April,  I have had some questions about slow regrowth for these early cuts. Do you relate this to cool weather with limited Growing Degree Day accumulations the last three weeks or can mowing alfalfa prior to any bud/bloom cause regrowth problems?

A: Too late of harvest last year? Alfalfa weevil feeding on first growth or regrowth?
Low soil fertility and soil pH? Too wet of soil? Low temperature for an extended period of time?

I would not harvest second cutting from these alfalfa stands prior to very early flower.


Q: Prussic Acid in Sorghum Sudangrass?
Some of the sorghum sudangrass is 5' tall and some of it is less than 10" tall.  Is prussic acid a concern in this low growing yellow material? It is to be pastured.

A: In the bit of literature that I did read, I saw no reference of wet feet or low N, which I presume to be the cause of the great difference of growth in the field, listed as a prime cause of prussic acid poisoning. Keep in mind, as is apparent by your question, that less mature (less stalk) sorghum does have more potential of concern than sorghum with more mature sorghum. If the majority of the field is 5 feet tall in height, I would have a watchful eye as a sub-sample of the livestock are turned on to the pasture. Animals should be turned on to the pasture after being fed other forage resources so as not to "pig out" on the sorghum- sudangrass.


Q: Horses & grass hay variety selection
Would it be good to have a 50% orchard grass and 50% timothy hay field for horses. Would the maturity of the grasses conflict and which would need the most nitrogen? 

A: Frankly, I see no real reason for a mixture of the two grasses, but if it is done seed selection is critically important. The orchardgrass should be a late-maturing variety and the timothy should be an early-maturing variety. N use will be dependent upon an appropriate yield goal and to a lesser degree whether the stand is pure or a mixture of the grasses.

Also, if the hay is to be fed to horses with a high plane of nutrition, it would be desirable to include alfalfa with the grass. No N should need to be applied to the alfalfa-grass mixture provided the alfalfa stand is adequate.


Q: Testing Silage
I have 40 acres of an experimental silage hybrid on a customer's farm that we may wish to market. It's uniqueness is in it's height and the number of leaves above the ear (13). My question regards the testing of the silage for nutrient value and digestibility. It is the first field to be chopped (out of a total 1000 acres) and consequently, will be buried deep in a bunker while it ferments, making fermented samples unreachable. I can pull samples off the truck when it is chopped (this Wednesday). Is there a way to "hand ferment" this product in order to get accurate lab evaluations?

  • Is fermenting necessary for this purpose?
  • Do you recommend sampling procedures for this process and a lab to do it? How much product should I retrieve?
  • I would like digestibility ratings as well as nutrition (dairy cows).

A: With the situation described, I would collect random green chop samples, keeping the samples cool during the day of collection. You may wish to combine the samples into one large sample, or consider having 3 or 4 samples, each representing 10-13 acres, to note variation among the several samples. I would freeze the subsamples, no more than a half gallon per subsample is necessary, before shipping to the laboratory in, preferably an insulated shipping container. Ship the sample on Monday to make sure that it doesn't sit in some mail office for a couple of days. I would consider A&L Laboratories in Ft. Wayne, Sure-Tech Laboratory, associated with the cooperative system, or the lab that the producer uses for their samples. I would also encourage that other hybrids be harvested at a similar stage of maturity so comparisons can be made. Use the same lab.

Dr. Tim Johnson, Purdue Animal Science, recommends two methods:

There are two methods of testing post fermentation silage quality.

  1. Model or scale silos can be made to allow post fermentation testing. It is good to have at least two samples. 1/2 to one gallon sample should be evacuated and sealed to simulate the air exclusion of packed silage.
  2. Three or four nylon net bags can be placed in the actual silage pile or bunker with 1/2 gallon samples, nylon cord up the silo wall is one way to mark where the bags are.
    Both these techniques have some flaws. Of course Ag Bag silos with a minimum 6 ft. D and20 feet length is more costly but may be the best method to test post  fermentation quality of new hybrids.


Q: Eliminating Fescue without tillage
A client is wishing to eliminate the fescue (almost 90% currently) entirely in his hay fields and then reestablish timothy and orchardgrass. Any suggestions not involving tillage?

A: What has worked well for at the Southern Indiana Purdue Ag Center is to apply Roundup on 6 inches or so of active growth in early fall. At greenup time in the spring, apply Roundup to missed or incomplete kill areas.  The conservative approach is to then seed a summer-annual like sorghum-sudangrass, sudangrass, or pearl millet in mid to late May and utilize it as pasture or silage. In early August assess whether the
summer-annual will continue to be used for the season or destroyed. If fescue is still present in areas, spot apply Roundup again. Seeding of the grass can occur in August or the next spring.

If the summer-annual is not desired, one will have more risk of fescue encroachment if seeding occurs in the spring.

Bottom line-Make sure the fescue is dead before seeding the next crop.

For your pondering:
Tillage may need to be considered if pH and fertility levels are not ideal.


Q: Shucklage
A client has been buying shucklage to feed his cattle at a fraction of the cost of grass/legume hay large bales. He wants to know the nutritional equivalent of this shucklage as compared to grass/legume hay to make sure he's feeding enough to his cattle.

A: by Kern Hendrix, Beef Specialist
Shucklage  is the by-product from seed corn processing. It is as the term implies, a blend of shucks and grain. The amount of grain varies widely depending on the company, their method of processing and from load to load. I've seen loads in that when the truck tail gate opened, you thought it was loaded with grain. Bottom line, this is pretty good stuff if one is willing to put up with the hassle of transporting and handling. 

At our beef unit here at Purdue we've used it for years. We've did about everything from re-chopping and blowing into a silo to bagging until we finally wised up this year and just dumped it in piles and quit spending all the effort. If packed, it will likely ferment and ensile. If not, some will ferment and some will mold. The longer one wants to have it around, the more effort one must spend to keep it preserved. 

In most cases it will have a nutritional value similar to whole plant corn silage. That means it's higher in energy than hay, but has less protein. TDN will be in the 65-70 % range, and protein in the 7-8% range. Thus, if used as a major portion of the diet, supplemental protein will be needed. A guideline would be to supplement 1 lb daily per head of soybean meal or 40 % supplement when feeding shucklage. One could also use a blend of hay and shucklage; say 10 lbs of hay and the balance shucklage. Assuming the hay has at least 12 plus protein, there would be no need for additional protein.

One thing to watch out for when feeding shucklage to beef cows is over conditioning. If allowed to consume all they want, they could easily become too fleshy. So be alert to that.

If you can provide me more details regarding the type of cattle operation you're dealing with, I can get more specific. Otherwise these are the general principles to follow.


Q:Winter grains
A client who normally plants winter rye in fall solely for straw next year asked if he could plant in spring and still get a good straw crop. Wet fall has delayed planting. He bales straw for horse racers who like the properties of the straw - it's pretty much a cash crop for him, similar to hay. So, since he has no interest in the grain (I'm assuming vernalization [sp?] takes place with winter rye similar to winter wheat), would a spring planting yield the same straw content?

A: A spring seeding of a winter small grain will produce significantly less straw because the crop was not vernalized. There are some spring triticale (manmade cross between wheat and rye) varieties that have been sown in the spring for forage purposes. The seed will be much more costly than an autumn seeding of winter rye and will mature at a later date than the winter rye.

Ag Nation Products may be an appropriate vendor for further discussion about performance of the triticale for the stated purpose. http://www.agnation.com


Q: Bromegrass for horses?
I was contacted from a local farmer about selling bromegrass hay for feeding horses. He says most prefer timothy hay. Do we have any pubs that give the feeding value of bromegrass hay that would help him sell his hay for feeding horses? Any help?

A: I was amused by your statement "He says most prefer timothy hay." Is "most" the horses or the owners of the horses? I'll bet the latter.

The seller of the hay should have his hay tested for nutritional quality and not rely on text book values. Producers can package exceptional or poor quality from the same field; it's a matter of good management versus lesser degree of management that makes a difference. Visit the following web site to see who is certified to test forages in IN: haytesting.org

Another good salesmanship approach is to provide a hay bale at no cost to a serious buyer. An accurate forage analysis indicating hay of high quality coupled with some marketing savvy should make the hay sell, even if "most prefer timothy hay".



For more forage information contact Dr. Keith Johnson: johnsonk@purdue.edu

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