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Your spring forage mix is planted, now what?

By May 15, 2023November 13th, 2023No Comments
You have planted your spring forage mix for your livestock. Now, what is the best way to manage this forage? Three things to consider: did you plant it for hay, for grazing, or maybe some of each? Whatever context you are operating in, it is important to manage these spring forages properly.

Managing Forage for Haying

When it comes to haying, tonnage and relative feed value (RFV) are the keys. In order to accomplish this, you need to bale your mix at the optimal time which occurs when peak nutrition (quality) and maximum growth (quantity) meet. In a diverse mix, you may not be able to accomplish this with every species in your mix, so focus on the primary species in the mix.

For example, if oats are the primary species, haying at the milk to soft dough stage would be optimal to maximize both quality and quantity. For bearded cereal varieties, the boot stage would be best to avoid potential problems with feeding forage with beards. Spring peas will generally align with oats for proper timing of haying while other legume species such as clovers would be best hayed at 10-20% flowering.. With any feed product, sending in a forage sample to evaluate feed quality is recommended.

Managing Forage for Grazing

Grazing is the most efficient way to utilize your forage mix because the livestock are doing the majority of the harvesting work!  We understand that this is not always possible in all situations, but with a little bit of fence and water work, spring forages can be efficiently utilized with rotational grazing. The key to making this system work is careful observation of the forage and the context around your grazing goals. If multiple grazing is part of the program, keep an eye on the growing points of the plants in your mix as protecting this is the key to regrowth. In most cereal grains this can be accomplished by pinching the base of the plant and running your fingers up the stalk and finding the small bump (the growing point) in the stalk. For best regrowth, graze when the growing point is low in the stalk and leave half of the forage standing and allow the forage to properly regrow before the next grazing pass through the field

If termination of the cover or forage crop is the goal, then the forage should be allowed to reach a more mature stage and be grazed with very high stock density rates. With more mature plants and higher stocking rates in long narrow paddocks,  the cattle will tend to trample more than they consume. This will terminate most annual forages and lay down a nice thatch for soil protection and weed control while still providing good feed for livestock.

As you begin to implement these practices, be very observant of the forages and your livestock to make the best management decisions. There are also many resources available to help guide to proper grazing and haying practices. Do your research and manage to the best of your ability and you will have a successful spring forage season.

If you’re still looking to plant forage yet this spring, take a look at our Warm Season Grazing Mix to see if it might be a good fit for your goals. Or, design a custom mix with our SmartMix calculator.


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