Extremely Hot & Dry Weather Creating Tough Times for Cattlemen

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Everyone knows that it has been hot and dry. The drought conditions of this summer have left our pastures in poor condition and we are in short supply for winter hay. While many producers did get their first cutting of hay, many more are needing a second cutting to get themselves through the upcoming winter.

I really appreciate the Lufkin Daily News printing the Angelina County rainfall chart on Wednesday, Aug 2. That chart provides the monthly rainfall and annual totals for the past ten years. I’ve been keeping up with those charts that provide monthly rainfall data from the Angelina County airport since 1990.

According to the numbers reported, our average annual rainfall is just under 50 inches per year for the last 33 years; 49.65 inches to be exact.

Looking at this year’s records, we have received 29.2 inches to date. That alone isn’t terrible but consider July’s total rainfall (again at the airport) measured only 0.26 inches, fully 3 inches below normal for July. Regardless, knowing rainfall totals does not make grass grow and does not put hay in the barn. Pastures are in poor shape and much more hay needs to be cut.

From my conversations with local cattlemen, there still seems to be a good bit of hope for fall rains. And with fall moisture, there is still a great opportunity for another cutting of hay and also for winter pastures. A winter pasture could be clovers, ryegrass, or small grains such as wheat, oat, or rye.  Winter pastures are planted in the fall and typically provide very high-quality grazing during a time when poorer-quality hay is fed.

Indeed, the cost of many winter forage options can be very competitive with the price of hay.  You could easily budget as much as $50 to $100 an acre for seed, lime, and fertilizer.  Yet, that single acre should then produce superior forage for livestock at a high stocking rate (think two cows per acre).  And considering an average cost for a round bale of hay, the economics weighs in favor of the winter pasture.

The risk of course is the soil moisture to ensure germination and sustained growth.

Dry fall seasons often discourage producers from overseeding pastures since stand failures occur due to a lack of water seed bed moisture.  Adequate rainfall is key to the success of any winter annual forage program.

Winter legumes can provide grazing in February, March, and April before summer pastures start their growth. The cost of establishing legumes can range from $15-40 per acre. New releases of some clovers may provide longer season grazing than other legumes. The longer season clovers can also add extra nitrogen.  These clovers also add about 3 tons more dry matter to the total forage (summer pasture plus winter clover) produced during the year.

Furthermore, overseeding legumes can contribute to the overall production of Bahia or Bermuda grasses. Crimson or Arrowleaf clover can contribute in the range of 50-100 lbs. per acre of nitrogen for summer pastures. Depending on the current cost of nitrogen, legumes may return a net value of $30-120 worth of nitrogen per acre long after it is grazed.

Another forage option available to producers this fall is overseeding the warm season pastures with a cool season grass planting. With our summer pastures being grazed short, the early establishment is very possible and would thus facilitate fall forage production.

A cool season forage could be used to supplement cows and grow retained, purchased, or gain stockers Rye is the most winter hardy of the annual winter pasture grasses. Compared to other annual winter grasses, rye produces more fall and winter forage. It matures early in the spring – usually peaking in early April. Rye is the most productive cool-season annual grass on soils low in fertility, well-drained, and sandy in texture.

The Angelina County Extension office is hosting a Pasture Herbicide Update and Fall Planning Seminar on Tuesday, Aug 15, 6:30- 8:30 pm at the Angelina County Extension Office. This will be a general review of new and existing herbicide options for landowners. Two CEUs will be given to pesticide license holders. No fee to attend.

Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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