Planting winter forages | Living the Country Life

Planting winter forages

Aim for cool-season plants that produce a lot of volume
Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Feed costs represent over 60% of the total costs in a cow-calf production system. Get a forage crop in the ground for late-season grazing as soon as possible to help stretch those feed dollars into winter.

Bruce Anderson is an extension forage specialist at the University of Nebraska. He says you need bare ground, and the key is to make sure the seedbed is nice and firm.

"That’s often times difficult to do during the late summer because we can have dry conditions, and it’s hard to really firm that seedbed so that we end up with good seed-to-soil contact after planting," says Anderson. "So, really paying special attention to firming up that seedbed where you walk across it, and you don’t sink in to that soil more than about the depth of the soles of your shoes or boots."

Choosing what to plant depends on the animals that will be grazing it, and varieties that will grow in cool conditions. Anderson says in most cases, shoot for something that can create more volume than quality-type characteristics.

"Things like the cereal crops, oats are a real popular plant for this time of the year. We can use things like the rye grasses because they can tolerate some fairly cool conditions," says Anderson. "We often see brassicas, things like turnips, radishes, forage rape, and those types of plants fare very well during this time of the year if we get a little bit of moisture."

Most of those plants can tolerate temperatures a few degrees below freezing and will continue growing once it warms up again. To make hay, cut soon after the plants begin to dry out following a killing freeze.

Learn more about fall/winter forages

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