Evaluating winter forage options
By Daren Redfearn
OSU Extension Forage and Pasture Management Specialist
The majority of Oklahoma remains in an extreme to exceptional drought. This means that between 6 to 15 inches of precipitation is needed to end the current drought. Some areas have received beneficial precipitation within the past few weeks, which has some pastures showing signs of regrowth. For bermudagrass pastures, it is important to remember that a modest level of soil fertility is needed to increase the probability of regrowth this fall when precipitation occurs. A modest fertility level will also support earlier recovery for pastures next spring.
Bermudagrass pastures that are dormant and grazed short will take some time and moisture to recover. Most pastures will begin to show signs of regrowth with as little as 1/3 to 1/2 inch of rain. However, additional precipitation is necessary for adequate forage production. Most bermudagrass pastures will need at least 1 1/2 inches of precipitation and 30 days of regrowth to recover enough to begin grazing and 5 or 6 inches of precipitation so that growth can continue until first frost. If soil P and K are adequate, applying a small amount of N to bermudagrass with take advantage of any late summer precipitation. Ideally, the precipitation should be slow enough that it results in minimal runoff. The fall growth potential of summer grass pastures depends on the timing and amount of rainfall.
Many bermudagrass pastures grazed short. Thus, the opportunity to successfully sod-seed small grains is a good option. Most of the seeding failures of small grains occur as a result of too much warm-season grass competition. In many areas, traditional wheat pasture will offer the most reasonable option for fall forage production. However, in some instances, planting one of the other small grain crops could increase the forage production potential. For more information on small grains, see OSU Fact Sheet PSS-2701 on Sod-seeding Small Grains into Bermudagrass Pasture.
In the eastern half of Oklahoma and some areas of southwestern Oklahoma, fertilizing bermudagrass and/or tall fescue pastures with 50 to 60 pounds N per acre in late August could result in available pasture by early December. With some timely rains, it may be possible to provide some fall pasture growth from bermudagrass or tall fescue that could be grazed as early as December. For management specifics on stockpiling forage, please see OSU Fact Sheet ANSI- 3035 on Bermudagrass Pasture to Reduce Winter Hay Feeding in Beef Cattle Operations.
The best options for fall and winter forage are those that have been successful in previous years for fall, winter, and spring forage production. Regardless of the forage production option, we need moisture. Soil moisture is more or less depleted in most areas, so we will need about 5 to 6 inches to produce 1 ton of forage. This moisture will need to fall in at least two events for the perennial pasture options and probably three events for the annual pasture options. Although these are the most reasonable options, they are also highly risky options due to the current lack of soil moisture across the state.