Drought stays as beef farmers plan on fall rains to make winter pasture

Stunted, stemmy pastures unable to support grazing cattle have potential. Depend on fall rains to bring fall regrowth, says University of Missouri Extension forage agronomist Craig Roberts.

Cool-season grass growth always slumps in summer. Fescue goes dormant. This year, the slump dives deep with lack of rain and too much heat. In spite of that, Missouri farmers should prepare for fall regrowth for winter grazing.

Roberts reminds farmers to think back to the big drought of 2012. After a prolonged dry spell, rains returned Sept. 1. After the drought, grass grew and soybean fields made big yields.

Fall rains and renewed growth are normal. Sometimes remnants of hurricanes, as in 2012, bring big rains.

To prepare for fall growth every year, farmers clip pastures to encourage regrowth and apply 40 to 50 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer. Then they wait for rains and new grass. Often as not, it works.

“If you prepare and it rains, you win,” Roberts says. “If not prepared, you can’t win.”

Roberts cautions farmers to not clip too early. “Wait to clip the canopy until mid-August.”

Friendly weeds may prove welcome this year, Roberts says. Grassy weeds such as crabgrass, foxtail, barnyardgrass and goosegrass are summer annuals. “Weeds are just waiting to grow. If we get some rain, they may make forage to bale.”

“Weeds aren’t great,” Robert adds. “But this year, take what Mother Nature gives. However, avoid baling poisonous or thorny weeds. We just want friendly weeds.”

Cool-season grasses have two growing seasons. The spring season provides two-thirds of annual production. That other third of growth usually goes into stockpile, which is left unbaled and held for winter grazing.

When cows harvest grass by grazing, it cuts winter feed bills.

Management-intensive grazing, taught in MU grazing schools, boosts production per acre by one third.

Roberts says he’s getting lots of phone calls about clipping pastures now. Farmers want to speed regrowth, but he urges patience. “Wait until the first or second week of August.”

By nature, Missouri farmers take risks. “Just wait and play the odds,” he says.