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Managing Forage Crops for Top Quality Livestock Feed

Some helpful tips to make the most of your pastures

Typically, pastures are fairly low maintenance, even when you decide to bale them for hay. However, by taking a few extra steps in managing forage crops, you can ensure top-quality results and better feed for your livestock.

The right time

Harvesting at the appropriate time can be the most important thing you do to ensure the quality of your feed.

"Don't let your grasses get too old before harvesting," explains Southern States® Agronomist Ken Sechler. "The more mature the plant gets, the more the quality declines."

As a plant develops, it creates seeds. After completing this reproductive task, the plant essentially starts to shut down. Protein and quality are highest right before this happens, and they start declining steadily afterwards. So be sure to harvest right before or right as the plant develops its seed head for maximum quality.

"We want to harvest at the earliest stage because that's when proteins and nutrients are at their highest," Sechler says.

The right protection

All too often, growers will leave bales out in the elements unprotected. Bales exposed to bad weather will deteriorate quickly. After harvesting at the right time, growers need to protect their finished product the right way. Sechler recommends protecting bales immediately.

"We have the ability now to wrap and cover hay in plastic to keep it out of the rain if interior space is not available," Sechler says. "There is no reason to delay, so do it right after harvest."

The right blend

With many good seed options on the market today, growers should try to pick the right type of grass that best fits their situation. Sechler says that in addition to typical cool-season grasses, many growers use summer annuals in their field as well.

"They can tolerate the hot weather and lack of moisture well, so farmers will plant summer annuals when the cool-season grasses struggle to grow in the heat."

Summer annuals grow quickly and are ready to be harvested or grazed early. Growers often turn to them as an option for their flexibility and ease. If you decide on a summer annual, be sure to hold off on planting until after the last killing frost.

Depending on your unique situation, finding the right blend of grasses might require some expert advice. For more information consult your local Southern States Agronomy Professional.

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