By Tim Wilson and Dr. Marcelo Wallau, UF/IFAS Extension
As we approach the late summer and early fall, it is time to consider our strategies for winter feeding program. Incorporating cool-season forages might be a feasible and productive alternative. These forages can be used to bridge the nutritional deficiencies in livestock during the winter as well as present a great opportunity for improved animal performance given the high nutritional value. Cool-season forages can be used for grazing, greenchop or silage crop, or as winter cover to provide erosion and improve nutrient cycling on cultivated acreage.
To implement cool-season forage pastures, several management steps should be considered.
First, choose which cultivar you want to plant. Many improved varieties have been developed by the UF/IFAS Forage Breeding team for use in Florida. Consider which best matches your conditions: make your choice based on region and soil conditions, use, and management practices. Search a variety of locations to see where you can buy your seed and purchase it early when possible (if you have adequate storage). Check out the UF/IFAS EDIS publication SS-AGR-84 – Cool-season forage variety recommendations for Florida (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/AA266) for more information.
Prior to planting, take soil samples and adjust nutrients as needed. Consult your local extension office for assistance on soil sample submission and interpretation of soil analysis results. If you need to add lime, do so as soon as possible since it generally takes several months to raise soil pH. If possible, incorporate in the soil (on prepared seedbed). Cool-season forages, especially legumes, will require a fined adjustment of soil pH and nutrient levels compared to our traditional bahiagrass. If you are overseeding an existing permanent pasture or an area that you plant forages each year, you may not need to make many adjustments. However, if you choose an old pasture or an undeveloped area that has just had trees and stumps cleared it is likely nutrient adjustments will be necessary. Native vegetation with pine trees typically has a lower pH that will need to be increased to provide the best chance for success with cool-season forages. Failure to adjust soil nutrients as needed can result in reduced or failed planting efforts.
Successful forage managers have a planting strategy that includes seedbed preparation. Options might included mowing, light disking, moldboard plow, heavy-disk harrow, rototiller, or many other cultivating tools to prepare the seedbed. Smaller operations may use a disk harrow making several passes in different directions, to achieve similar results. If possible, break clumps up and level the area before planting. Adding a drag, stump or rail behind the disk harrow may help reduce clumps. Overseeding (i.e. planting over the existing pasture) is an option, but requires specialized equipment such as a no-till drill, or will limit options for planting. Generally, broadcasting over sod will only work well for ryegrass and clovers. When planting over sod, it is important to wait for the first frost, or use a suppression herbicide for reducing the competition from the existing pasture.
Calibrate your equipment based on the cultivar you’ve selected. Even if you calibrated and used your planter last year, check again. You may need to purchase replacement parts or replace implements. Plant based on soil moisture conditions and weather forecast. If soil is too dry and there is no forecast of rain, seeds will not germinate. If there is just sufficient moisture for germinations, but still no rain forecast, chances are the seedlings will not survive.
Fertilizer application should be based on soil sample recommendations (phosphorus and potassium) and target production levels (nitrogen). Application of a starter fertilizer can be applied at planting (P and K plus 30 lbs of nitrogen per acre), preferentially, right after germination. A follow up application of nitrogen 45 to 60 days after planting will be beneficial for the grasses. Details on the type, amount and timing of fertilizer application can be found on the UF/IFAS EDIS publication SL129 UF/IFAS Standardized Fertilization Recommendations for Agronomic Crops (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss163).
If you have questions related to winter feeding strategies, cool season forages, or any other beef management practice, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent.