In Florida, warm-season perennial grasses provide adequate forage during the summer months, but both forage quality and quantity are limited in the winter months. During the winter months warm-season perennial grasses go dormant because of shorter days and cooler temperatures. Many livestock producers may implement cool-season forages on their operation to help provide high quality forage during the winter and spring, resulting in greater animal performance. Cool-season forages can be used as a cover crop, grazing, wildlife attractant, hay or silage.
When establishing a cool-season forage pasture you first need to choose the correct forage for the soil and climate. Second make sure the forage is suitable for the producer’s objectives and management inputs. Some soil characteristic that are most desirable for growing cool-season annuals are soils that contain organic matter and clay. Clay and organic matter hold soil moisture making the Panhandle of Florida the optimal environment for growing cool-season forages. In others areas of the state like Central Florida, the soil drains well and does not hold soil moisture. In South Florida, the environments productive period for cool-season forages is much shorter which can limit the use of winter forages. Establishment can be costly and tricky depending on the weather. Planting dates are during the fall and winter making soil moisture the key to success of cool-season annual establishment and total yield. Planting cool-season annuals into a prepared seed bed will allow for earlier grazing and higher yield. In contrast, overseeding cool-season annuals into an existing pasture is a common way to plant but forage yield is reduced due to perennial pasture competition. Seed size is also an important factor for establishment. The small seed size makes cool-season forage slow to establish and larger seeds will establish quicker. Ryegrass is the most widely planted cool-season grass in Florida. Small grains like oats, rye, wheat, and triticale are more productive in the early half of winter and ryegrass is more productive in late winter into spring. Rye and ryegrass are not the same species. Rye is an edible small grain that can be grazed and ryegrass is an annual forage grass used as a grazing crop and green chop. Planting both small grains and ryegrass together will help extend a grazing season and increase production. Cool-season grasses and cool-season legumes can also be planted together to be productive in the early fall and spring extending the grazing period. If livestock consume large amount of legumes it can cause bloat in ruminant animals which is a result of excess gas in the rumen. To help prevent bloat, legumes and cool-season grasses should be planted together. Planting legumes with cool-season grasses with help decrease the nitrogen fertilizer needed because legumes will fix atmospheric nitrogen and provide nitrogen for cool-season grasses. Nitrogen fertilizer is needed in late fall to increase growth of cool-season grasses before cool-season legumes become productive.
Planting cool-seasons forages can be the answer to feed shortages during the harsh winter months in Florida. Purchasing hay can be expensive, but the cost to plant cool-season forages can benefit both the producers pocket and soil for future forage crops.
For more information, contact your local livestock extension agent.