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OSU Extension BEEF Team

BEEF Cattle questions may be directed to the OSU Extension BEEF Team through Stephen Boyles or Stan Smith, Editor

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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 706

October 6, 2010

Forage Focus: Protect Pasture Leaf Area in the Fall - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA

I've gotten some questions recently about pasture management during dry fall conditions. Specifically, how will future pasture production be affected by grazing off pasture leaf area now, in the fall? The short answer to that question is that pasture production will be harmed by grazing off leaf area at this time. Now, let's examine the reasons behind the answer and some management options.

Fall is the time when the perennial plant prepares for winter. As a perennial plant, the root system remains alive over the winter and depends upon stored carbohydrate reserves to survive and to regenerate new growth the following spring. Manufacture of those carbohydrate reserves depends upon photosynthesis. Photosynthesis depends upon leaves capturing sunlight. More leaf area equals more sunlight captured, higher photosynthetic rates and higher levels of carbohydrates produced for winter storage. As we go farther into the fall, grass growth rate slows down considerably, but photosynthesis can still occur at productive rates, provided there is adequate leaf area.

Graziers should avoid the situation where a grass plant is grazed off low with little or no residual leaf area in the fall of the year. In this situation there may be enough growing season left for the plant to pull out root reserves to start growing new leaves, but not enough growing season left to get enough leaf area to replenish the reserves. The plant ends up in a weakened state to go through the winter and can be slow to green up the following spring. In some cases, the plant may loose root volume over the winter and plant productivity can be decreased well into the next growing season. Weakened grass plants open the stand up to invasion by weeds and pasture quality suffers.

The grazing goal in the fall period is to manage pastures to leave at least a 4 inch leaf residual growth so that plants continue to stay in positive carbohydrate balance and continue to photosynthesize. If pastures can't be managed in this way, then an option is to utilize a sacrifice lot, a pasture paddock that gets overgrazed, and feed hay in this lot rather than letting all pasture paddocks become overgrazed.

I've been asked if there is ever a time when pasture leaf area can be grazed off. Yes, once the plant is truly dormant and leaf growth has ceased for the year. This generally occurs when daytime temperatures average around 40 degrees F and after several nights of temperatures around 25 degrees F. At this point, leaf tissue is not going to regrow. New growth will come from new shoots arising from the roots in the spring of the year. At this point, that leaf tissue can be completely grazed off. This is basically the idea behind stockpiling and what makes that system work.

Well-managed pastures are an important financial resource and they must be protected in the fall of the year. This is the time to use some of the abundant hay that was produced earlier this year.

Fall Fertility Checklist - Doug Beegle, Soil Fertility, Penn State Extension

Soil Test: Every field should be sampled once every 3 years. As soon as the crops are harvested try to get out and get soil samples collected from the fields scheduled for soil sampling this year before the weather turns bad. Follow the sampling directions from the lab and take a consistent representative sample.

* Fall is the best time to soil test. It is important to sample at the same time each year.

* First priority should be hay fields that are due for sampling. Sample now so that if they need nutrients you can get them on this fall.

* The second priority would be fields that are going to be rotated to alfalfa within the next year. Sample now so that if they need lime you can get that on this fall.

* Some people have questioned soil test recommendations at higher yields. It is important to indicate the expected yield on the soil test information sheet so that recommendations are adjusted appropriately for higher yields.

Lime: Liming is something that you have to do regularly. Our soils are constantly becoming more acid. A typical N application to corn creates the equivalent of about 500 lb of lime requirement each year and that is just one of the many factors that are constantly lowering soil pH.

* Base lime rates on soil test results

* Adjust liming rates based on limestone quality.

* Fall is an excellent time to lime. This gives the lime time to react and raise the pH before the next growing season.

* Starting in the fall will give you time to schedule lime applications for when the soils are fit for lime spreaders, thus there will be less potential for compaction.

* Regular liming is especially important for no-till systems. Never let the pH in no-till systems get too low. It is easy to maintain pH but very difficult to correct a low pH in no-till.

Fertilize Hay Fields: Having adequate fertility, especially potassium (K) going into the winter is critical for good forage stand survival.

* Soil sample early so you have time to make phosphorus (P) and K applications this fall.

* Any field testing low in K should have at least some of the recommended fertilizer applied in the fall to help with winter survival.

* Splitting high recommendations, some in the fall and some after first cutting will improve nutrient uptake efficiency.

Spread Manure Appropriately: The ideal time to spread manure is as near to crop uptake as practical. However for many farmers fall applications are necessary

* Think about where are the best places on the farm to spread fall manure.

* Fields with growing crops e.g. hay fields, cover crops, etc, should be the highest priority.

* Applying manure on a cover crop compared to no cover crop will double the N availability to the following crop and thus reduce the potential for environmental problems.

* Spread manure in the fall on fields with the lowest environmental risk from winter rain and snow runoff e.g. flatter fields, away from water, fields with good surface residue, etc.

* Get your manure analyzed. Book values are very good averages, but are useless for any individual farm.

Eliminating Costs is Always Better than Reducing Costs - Jim Gerrish, American Grazing Land Services LLC, Idaho

It seems we give too much attention to reducing costs and not nearly enough to eliminating costs. If all you ever do is reduce costs, you will have to make adjustments every time prices increase. However, if you eliminate a cost, you will never have to deal with it again. Kicking the hay habit is a good example. If hay is no longer a part of your operation, it is a cost you no longer have to manage. If you just reduce hay feeding from 120 days to 45 days, then it is still a cost that must be managed.

A lot of producers have trimmed their hay feeding way back from what it used to be - but did they sell their equipment? Often not. They still have it and rather than making 500 tons of hay a year, they only make 150 tons. A lot less operating cost, but no reduction in the overhead cost of owning equipment. The cost per ton of hay is now likely to be even higher than it was before. If the equipment were sold, the overhead cost would be eliminated.

Another downside of keeping the hay equipment is you can easily be tempted to start making hay at the drop of a hat. Got a little extra grass this year? Bale it up. Made some extra hay last year? Let's feed a little longer. Pretty soon you're right back in the same rut - enslaved by the hay paradigm.

When and/or if you need hay, purchase it from someone else. When you buy hay, you are also buying fertility. A ton of mixed grass-legume hay contains about 40-50 lb. N, 12-14 lb. phosphate, 40-50 lb. potash, an array of micronutrients - and after consumption leaves 500-1000 lb. of organic matter behind. At today's N-P-K prices, a ton of hay is worth $30-40 just for those three macronutrients. Add in the calcium, magnesium and micronutrients and the value is around $50-55/ton. If you can buy hay for anything less than $55/ton, you're either getting your feed or your fertilizer for free.

We can talk all we want about cost reduction, but the only real step forward comes when we embrace cost elimination.

Ohio Forages and Grasslands Council Annual Meeting, February 11, 2011

The Ohio Forages and Grasslands Council Annual Meeting will be February 11, 2011 from 8:30 to 4:00 p.m. The focus will be "The Plant and How It Grows". Dr.Glen Schmaker, Forage Specialist, Extension Assistant Professor from University of Idaho will do sessions on making hay, understanding how to maximize grazing based on the time of day and cool season plants. Dr. Marvin Hall, Penn State Professor of Forage Management will have sessions on plant growth and how animals utilize the plants. Besides the keynote speakers, Ohio producer panel will share their observations and experiences with plant production and harvesting practices. The meeting will be held at Ohio Department of Agriculture at Reynoldsburg, Ohio. For more information, call Leah Miller at 740.545.6349.

Corn and Feeder Cattle Prices Remain Volatile - Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service

Last week was another roller coaster ride for corn and feeder cattle futures markets. The December corn futures market declined 56 cents per bushel from the Friday, September 24 close of $5.21 to the Friday, October 1 close of $4.65 . During the same time, October feeder cattle futures rallied $3.12 per hundredweight to the $111.80 close on Friday. Corn futures prices declined 4 out of 5 days while feeder cattle futures increased those same 4 of 5 days.

Declining corn prices were good news for feeder cattle producers who have cattle to market in the next few weeks. The heavy fall calf marketing season is just starting and a continuing increase in corn prices would not be supportive to calf prices. Cattle producers have watched with concern as corn futures prices rallied from lows the end of June near $3.50 per bushel to highs near $5.25 late in September. The decline in corn prices last week was due mainly to the increase in corn stocks that USDA-NASS reported in the Grain Stocks report released on September 30. Old crop corn stocks in all positions on September 1 totaled 1.71 billion bushels, up 2 percent from last year and up about 300 million bushels from the 1.41 billion in the pre-report trade estimates. The rally in corn prices since June was due to USDA reducing the projected size of the U.S. corn crop and world weather-related concerns that have reduced grain production estimates. Earlier in the summer, USDA was predicting a record 13.37 billion bushel crop but the September 10th World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report lowered expected production to 13.16 billion bushels.

The volatility in corn (and feeder cattle) prices will likely continue until the size of the corn crop is known for sure. Early harvest yields in parts of the Corn Belt have been lower than expected. That, coupled with excessive moisture in parts of the Western Corn Belt where record yields were expected, have led some private forecasters to lower yield estimates. The September WASDE report estimated an average corn yield of 162.5 bushels per acre, but some forecasters predict that number to fall below 160. The October WASDE report will be released this week on Friday, October 8 and certainly bears watching.

Feeder calf prices are currently about 15 percent higher than last year. Some additional weakness is likely into the heavy marketing season that is just ahead. Calf prices should stay about 15 percent higher than last year unless corn prices surge again.

Due to the potential volatility of the market, producers considering backgrounding and winter wheat grazing programs may want to have price risk management strategies in place. Interestingly, the futures market depicts a contra-seasonal rally in feeder cattle prices with the January and March contracts trading $1 to $2 higher than the October and November contracts.

Visit the OSU Beef Team calendar of meetings and upcoming events

BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.

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Fairfield County Agriculture and Natural Resources