Conference looks for a better way with forages
WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Virginia foragers were challenged last week to find better ways to feed livestock throughout the year with alternative forages.
“Why don’t more farmers have their pastureland acreage dedicated to warm season forages?” J. B. Daniel, NRCS agronomist, asked here in opening a series of four meetings constituting the 2019 Virginia Forage and Grassland Council Winter Conference.
“We have both annual and perennial forages that are well adapted and productive in summer,” Daniel said. “They are more efficient at utilizing the limited moisture in the soil through the summer months and can produce more forage at higher temperatures compared to our cool season grasses.”
Information about cool season grasses, especially fescue, the state’s basic grass, was a key part of the conference. In hot months, they are least productive, cutting into livestock weight gains and the overall health of cattle.
Two leaders in the efforts to bring change in forage production, Dr. Matt Poore of North Carolina State University and Dr. Pat Keyser of the University of Tennessee, brought information about both annual and native forages as alternatives. It was shared here, at Blackstone, Brandy Station and Weyers Cave.
Poore talked about his experiences as both a scientist and working farmer with 160 people here in an all-day meeting Jan. 15 and at the other meetings later in the week.
Keyser put the need for change in perspective in a paper he had prepared for the Progressive Forage Grower in May 2016 when he reported that its been estimated that fescue toxicosis costs cattlemen over $2 billion annually or about $160 per cow per year.
Poore asked where annuals fit in a forage system, saying he has thought about them a lot in the past eight years, after talking with Ray Archuleta, a NRCS soil health specialist, during a North Carolina Forage and Grassland Conference based on the Virginia conferences.
That year, 2012, the Poore family killed a good stand of KY-31 fescue and replaced it with annuals on its Triple Creek Ranch in Virgilina, Va., he said.
Archuleta had urged him to use a complex mix rather than just a sorghum-sudan mix as people were using at the time to replace fescue. This mix is now known as Ray’s Crazy mix and is being marketed as such. While annuals cost more than initially, Poore suggested they may be the best short-term choice.
“An annual forage such as sorghum-sudan would be highest cost option due to high seed cost and nitrogen requirements, while tall fescue with clover would be expected to be the lowest feed to cost,” 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,” the told the farmers.
Both speakers stressed the importance of being prepared for drought throughout the conference.
“Drought is coming, have a plan,” was Keyser’s opening message at the conference. “If you want to make a profit raising cattle, make sure you have adequate forage-pasture.”
He outlined several approaches to doing this using native summer forages. He suggested several native summer perennials as a good tool in managing fescue. Among these are switchgrass, big bluestem/indiangrass and eastern gamagrass.
Keyser reported that the perennials are available each spring and summer without additional planting costs.
As farmers move into a challenging growing season complicated by the extremes of weather the past few months, the discussion started by VFGC at its winter conferences seems sure to continue.
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