View All Posts

Aug 31

Forage Plant Establishment, Growth, and Management Practices throughout the Year

Posted on August 31, 2017 at 9:01 AM by Allan Warren

pg 8 photo
Avoid turning livestock out to trample and tear up your pastures this winter to prevent soil compaction. Instead, hold them in a sacrifice area (paddock) like the one on Rick and Melissa Kindsfather’s farm in Graham.
By Steve Fransen, Forage Agronomist, WSU Cooperative Extension, Part 3 of 3

The forage/pasture cycle begins in the fall, generally in September, with  new grass root and seed head tiller initiation.  This is where our story begins - in the fall.  Many folks don’t want to buy hay in September so they “slick” the pasture down thinking this saves them hay for later feeding.  Unfortunately, this strategy initiates several negative scenarios you may not be aware of.  By slicking off (which often means overgrazing the pastures into the dirt) that important residual grass stubble (that stubble which is about 3” above the soil surface) in September, several events are set into motion.  The stubble is an important source of carbohydrates for fall root regrowth, and to feed the newly developing seed head meristem tissues that will be next years’ seed heads.  Consider that stubble is the primer starting fall grass regrowth.  When you lose this priming action, you have lost more than the value of the hay you might have saved.  What you have lost is future forage yield potential!  Thus, you can count on lower forage yields next year because the initial regrowth phase was surely slowed if not eliminated. 

Read the Rest of the Series Here: Spring & Summer

Perennial ryegrass (pictured below) is
one of the three most productive grass species for
forage and hay in our area. The other two species
being tall fescue and orchardgrass.

Sidebar pg 8Next, you permit weed seeds a place to land on bare soil thereby giving them the greatest opportunity to become established.  The grasses going into September are weakened because they have just survived the summer stress period of higher temperatures and prolonged drought.  So, slicking off the forage in September weakens the grass plants for the next major stress period- the wet winter stress.  I hope you now look at these supposedly positive aspects of September grass slicking or overgrazing and rethink your strategy this fall.  Fall is an excellent time to take soil samples, have them analyzed and apply lime.  (The Pierce Conservation District offers a first-one’s-free soil analysis, so take advantage of this service!) September is the best time to apply phosphorus (P) to the grassland because P is needed to develop new roots.  I’d avoid heavy applications of nitrogen (N) as this restricts the grass from going into dormancy in the late fall for winter survival.  Reasonable applications of N and sulfur (S) along with P and potassium (K) will start the process of increasing grass strength and vigor.  The problem is you’ll not see the results for more than 6 months, so patience is important- this is an investment into your pastures’ future.  

The wet winter stress period has some similarities to the dry summer stress period.  The grass roots are shedding.  That is, the roots change color from bright white to gray to brown to black as these plant tissues die.  The plant is using carbohydrates in the stubble and roots for survival, the soils are cold so most grasses are in a state of. The nearly constant daily rain continues to strike the barren soil if the grasses had been slicked off.  Some of our soils will go into an anaerobic state- a state without oxygen when pore spaces are filled with water and certain gasses formed in the soil which can impede plant survival.  Avoid turning livestock out to trample and tear up the pastures, this is where that important sacrifice area comes in.  The sacrifice area is torn up instead of the productive pastures during the wet winter months.  Punching the soil through hoof action during the winter greatly increases soil compaction, and when you want water to enter the soil later it simply cannot.  

To achieve desired pasture response, means strong, vigorous roots and maintaining proper stubble heights.  The forage calendar should become part of your full forage management design and plan in the future. By starting on the right foot in September, the cycle is primed.  You have established the top potential yield next year at this time!  By reducing winter stresses, the cycle is jumpstarted for spring.  In the spring as most people think, we have our best growth and highest yields.  But are these yields the best yields that you can produce?  Only monitoring an area where you’ve practiced what we are recommending will show you on your own farm.
This is where we end this concept- with September and the fall period where the forage calendar and the forage cycle starts once again.  


Read the Rest of the Series Here: Summer, Fall (coming soon), Winter (coming soon)
Read the Rest of the Series Here: Summer, Fall (coming soon), Winter (coming soon)