Annual summer forages spark excitement in Va.
Dr. Matt Poore ruminant nutrition specialist at North Carolina State University shared this insight with Virginia farmers during the recent 2019 Virginia Forage and Grassland Council Winter conferences.
Much of Poore’s talks were based on experience he and his neighbor Johnny Rogers had planting annuals on the Poore farm.
“We were soon to learn that a lot of our farmers might not plant a summer annual if it really made sense,” Poore said. “But they might do it just out of interest and to do something that might be a little crazy and out of the box.”
Poore himself showed boyish excitement about them as he explained how he became interested in annual forages eight years ago. Poore reported beginning to incorporate more annuals in his family’s pastures in 2012. That was the year he and his father hosted a summer field day on the Triple Creek Ranch in Virgilina, Va.
The role fescue plays in pastures in Virginia is a driving force in Poore’s question, “Where do annuals fit in forage system?”
“In the end, the thing I like most about annuals is that they are a key weapon in the battle against toxic fescue,” he said.
He explained that research shows losses of up to 100 pounds per calf can be attributed to KY-31 tall fescue.
“Annuals play a key role in most conversion scenarios and it is clear that the longer you keep a field out of fescue the better chances it will stay clean and productive once Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue or warm season grasses are established,” he said.
Many of his efforts came from discussion with Ray Archuleta, a soil health specialist who has developed a complex mix of annual forages, now being marketed as Ray’s Crazy Summer Mix and Ray’s Crazy Winter Mix.
“That first year we killed a good stand of KY-31 fescue and replaced it with annuals,” Poore said. “For the field day we planted part of the 30-acre field in a complex annual mixture and also planted strips of a collection of sorghum-sudan varieties and browntop millet.”
They were puzzled after they planted the annuals.
“The experience that first year taught us to get the seed in the ground and then be patient and wait for rain,” Poore said. “We also learned that we didn’t know as much about planting forages or managing grazing as we thought. The season started out really dry. We had a stand of all the species we planted, but it developed really slowly over the first four weeks. After the rains did come we ended up with a jungle over eight feet tall and cowpea vines tangled all through it. The pure stands of sorghum-sudan reached over 10 feet.”
What’s more is he said the cattle ate it. They got more grazing on that field during the summer, better than a whole year of KY-31 and clover, Poore added.
Poore pointed to both the up and down sides of using annual forages. One negative is the higher cost of seeding forage. He also suggested it may be the lowest cost feed in the long run.
“Essentially cheap fescue in the spring doesn’t do you much good in the middle of the summer,” he said. “While the annual may be expensive compared to other forages, it may be the lowest cost way of providing adequate nutrition to the grazing cattle on a particular day when the alternative might be hay and a concentrate supplement.”
Other advantages are the potential beneficial impact on soil health and they can be an important part of pasture renovation.
He ended by encouraging cattle producers to convert about half their land to forage crops other than fescue. This will allow them to compliment the fescue.
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