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Choosing Your Forage, Managing Your Risk

posted Nov 17, 2015, 11:49 AM by Alice Davis   [ updated Jun 2, 2016, 9:16 AM ]

Bonnie Mandziak PAg, AEGP Technician, Calling Lakes Farm Stewardship Group

It’s March and if you are planning to seed forages this spring you should be thinking about the variety and blend that works best for your operation.  You may have marginal land that is prone to flooding or salinity and would better serve you in perennial forage.  Perhaps you have expanded your herd and require more pasture or hayland.  Maybe you are retiring and are considering leasing out standing hay as a way to generate revenue. .       

Some of the factors that need to be considered are:

·         Use – What is the intended use of the forage?  Will it be used as hayland, silage, stockpile grazing or pasture?  If pasture, will it be rotationally grazed or continuously grazed?

·         Forage Timing – What time of year does the forage need to be available?

·         Soil Type - What is the soil like? Clay, Loam, Sandy?  Does it drain well? Does it have salinity problems?

·         Soil Condition – What is the soil fertility? How much organic matter is present? What were the previous herbicide treatments?

Once the intended use is determined, a producer can sit down and determine the best blend that works for them. 

Common species that are used:

Species

Best Use

Timing

Salinity Tolerance

Tolerance to Flooding

Alfalfa (early /medium maturity)*

Both

Spring – fall

Low to moderate

Low

Creeping Rooted Alfalfa*

Hayland

Spring – fall

Low to moderate

Moderate

Cicer Milkvetch

Grazing

Late spring – fall

Low to moderate

Low

Meadow Brome

Hayland

Early spring – late summer

Low to moderate

Low

Hybrid Brome

Both

Spring – late summer

Low to moderate

Moderate

Tall Fescue

Hayland

Spring – fall

Moderate to High

Moderate to High

Creeping Red Fescue

Grazing

Spring – fall

Low to moderate

Moderate

Pubescent Wheatgrass

Both

Spring – summer

Low to moderate

Low

* With all alfalfa varieties the possibility of pasture bloat needs to be taken into consideration when grazing livestock.

** Specific characteristic are determined by variety, please refer to variety specific guidelines. 

When selecting forages it is important to use Certified Seed whenever possible.  Although the cost of seed is higher, the overall benefit provided by variety purity outweighs the cost.  Try to avoid using varieties that have invasive characteristics.  Varieties such as Smooth Brome and Crested Wheat, although popular and low cost, have a tendency to spread easily throughout the landscape and choke out native species.

Over the past 5 years we have received above normal amounts of precipitation.  For forage producers this has been a great benefit with many producing phenomenal stands.  Then came 2015 and we had below normal precipitation early on causing fear there would be a feed shortage. This early drought was a reminder to better manage risk and plan for dry years.  Producers should consider stock piling feed rather than pushing their stocking rates to higher levels.  Use cross-fences to create paddocks to utilize rotational grazing and provide better control of season use, grazing intensity and distribution.  Resting forages and not overgrazing are important things to consider for many reasons.  Rested forages have increased vigor, forage yield and sustainability.  They are better at tolerating unfavorable environmental conditions such as drought or flooding.  Without rest, desirable forage species will reduce and overall pasture health will decline.

For more information on forage selection contact Bonnie Mandziak with the Calling Lakes Farm Stewardship Group and the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed at 306-795-7279 or contact a Ministry Agriculture Regional Forage Specialist Representative or the Agriculture Knowledge Center at 1-866-457-2377.