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Beat Summer Slump
Keep stock up to speed even when cool-season forages slow
to a crawl.
It happens nearly every summer. In May and June, your cows could barely
keep up with the grass. Paddocks of cool-season forages were ready to graze
again just two weeks after you pulled off the stock, and the haybine never had a
chance to cool down. Now in July and August, growth has slowed to a standstill,
and you wonder where you will move the cows to next.
The bad news is that there is nothing you can do
about the growth habits of the cool-season grasses and clovers that are so
well-adapted to our climate and soils. But the good news is you can manage them
to minimize the downside of the summer slump, and have decent grazing all summer
"The nature of the beast is that you have very high production
for the first two months after the cool-season forages break dormancy, then
their production drops by half or more," says Darrell Emmick, NRCS state
grasslands specialist based in Cortland, N.Y. Cool-season forages grow best when
daytime temperatures are in the 60 F- to 70 F-range, Emmick explains. During
peak spring growth, orchardgrass, for example, easily produces 100 pounds of dry
matter per acre each day, and can even top 200 pounds.
result, more than half of the annual production of cool-season forages comes in
the first two months of the growing season. July and August usually contribute
just 10 percent each to the yearly production total, and sometimes less if high
temperatures are accompanied by moisture stress. Cool-season forages rebound
some in fall when temperatures moderate, but not to the levels of their spring
flush because of the shorter fall days.
During cool summers,
growth may be relatively even, as in '94 when some New York graziers maintained
a two- to three-week rotation for most of the season. But that's the exception
to the rule. Most years, you'll need to manage for the inevitable slump. Here
are some strategies to help you cope:
more pasture. "When it comes to beating the slump, planning is
everything," says Emmick. "And the first thing you need to plan is to
have enough acres of cool-season forages in your pasture system." As a
rough rule of thumb, that means about one acre per milker or beef cow-calf pair
on well-managed cool-season pastures -- more on poorer ground or
less-intensively managed pasture and perhaps slightly less on exceptionally
Another good guide is to look at how much of
your pasture you have to mechanically harvest during peak growth in spring,
suggests Emmick. "The cows should only be able to keep up with about half
of your paddocks and you should be taking the other half. If not, plant more
pasture." Bringing those other paddocks back into the rotation in summer
should extend your rest periods long enough to ensure a constant supply of
Of the cool-season grasses, timothy and bluegrass are
notorious slumpers, and bluegrass is especially vulnerable to moisture stress.
Emmick reports that in New Zealand -- where high-yielding but slump-prone
ryegrasses and white clover are popular -- there is much interest in planting
some ground to "summer active" species such as red clover,
orchardgrass, tall fescue, reed canarygrass and others that are more
pastures. Close grazing in early spring -- leaving just a two-inch residual
-- helps pastures prepare for summer slump, Emmick points out. When stock nip
off the growing point of grasses, it encourages them to tiller and send off
sideshoots from the collar, thickening the stand. As the slump approaches,
leave slightly more residual -- about 3 inches -- so that the sideshoots aren't
completely grazed off. "This leaves a little more of a solar collector on
the plants to help them recover faster and helps shade the ground so that it
won't dry out as fast," observes Emmick.
If you plan to put nitrogen fertilizer on grass pastures, you need to do it
immediately preceding a shower, cautions Emmick. "It won't do you any good
to put it on dry ground with a dormant stand," he says.
rotating. Don't allow paddocks to go more than 30 days without grazing
them, even if the cool-season species don't reach the optimum 6- to 8-inch
grazing height. After a month, older leaves start to wear out and die, so you
begin to lose both quantity and forage quality, says Emmick. Cows will have to
work harder for what is forage is there, and you'll need to adjust your
supplemental rations accordingly.
hayfields. If you start to run out of pasture, you can bring other
hayfields into your rotation. "I wouldn't plant alfalfa just to graze, but
it will keep growing during the summer when other forages shut down," notes
Emmick. Avoid pure stands and take precautions to prevent bloat.
Consider warm-season perennials. Peak growth of
warm-season grasses, such as switchgrass and big bluestem, comes during
cool-season forages' summer slump. But they are a challenge to establish in our
climate, require special management to maintain a stand, and don't produce
dairy-quality forage. They may, however, fill a niche for beef producers
willing to take the extra effort they require, especially on droughty soils
where cool-season forages won't outcompete them. Another drought- and
heat-tolerant forage is puna chickory. (Available from Oldfield Seeds. See
Seed Sources, below.) This taprooted perennial was
developed in New Zealand, and can be sown with cool-season forages or as a pure
annual pastures. Annual pastures can make an effective complement to
perennial pastures, especially during the summer slump. Brassicas such as
turnips and rape can provide high-energy grazing in summer, then regrow for a
late fall or early winter grazing. Ohio corn breeder Dick Baldridge has
developed a composite of silage corns designed specifically for grazing
(available from Oldfield Seeds). It can be no-tilled into a killed or
suppressed sod or broadcast and cultipacked into disked ground. Grazing can
start about 50 days after planting and continue for about two months after that,
using polywire to ration out the stand.
While you save on harvest
costs with annual pastures compared to feeding in the barn, you still have the
yearly seed, fertilizer, tillage and other associated costs of growing the crop.
"Your first step to beat the summer slump should still be to make sure you
have enough cool-season pasture," reiterates Emmick.
| Considering reseeding or planting more pasture? First check with your
local seed dealer to see what they have available, or contact these forage seed
suppliers for more information:
Albert Lea Seed
House, P.O. Box 127, Albert Lea, MN 56007; (800) 352-5247.
International Seed Co., 8483 W. Stayton Rd., Aumsville, OR 97325; (800)
Edge Agriproducts, Rt. 1, Box 234AA, Lowry City, MO 64763; (800) 753-6511.
Byron Seed Supply,
RR 1, Box 92, Marshall, IN 47859.
Seeds, 2059 Rt. 96, Trumansburg, NY 14886; (607) 387-5788.
Seed, 238 Holiday Rd., Mexico, NY 13114; (315) 963-8383.
Agriproducts, 3770 Aldergrove Rd., Ferndale, WA 98248; (206) 366-4343.
Seeds, P.O. Box 577, Winchester, KY 40392; (800) 448-5145,
Madison, WI, 53707; (800) 356-7333.
Seed, P.O. Box 346, Savage, MN 55378; (612) 445-2606.
P.O. Box 250, Hall, NY 14463; (716) 526-6391.
17724 Highway 136, Onslow, IA 52321; (800) 728-8450.
Valley Seeds, N2976 County M, White Lake, WI 54491; (715) 882-3100.
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