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Ways to provide spring pasture
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It’s already the latter half of January and soon cattle producers are planning on their animals grazing on pasture.  If the weather pattern holds, it won’t be long before wheat breaks dormancy and spring growth begins.  While wheat pasture this past fall wasn’t horrible, it also wasn’t as productive in many fields as hoped due to cool temperatures, relatively little precipitation and in some cases later than optimum planting.  This means in many cases the desired forage production for grazing, in terms of quantity and duration, will be difficult to achieve due to a lack of tillering and plant development.  The lack of tillers can’t be changed but moisture and mild conditions could aid production. 
Another potential concern is forage production of cool season grass pastures.  Pastures are still recovering from the drought and many were over grazed.  There is definite concern over the lack of grazing opportunities as of today.  For producers needing pasture there are some potential solutions to help bridge the forage gap until summer.  However, these are also at the mercy of weather.
• Oats – Oats can provide good to excellent pasture in April and through much of May if the weather cooperates.  Oats do well during cool weather and can typically be planted in this area in late February through March.  Naturally the earlier the crop is planted, the sooner grazing can begin.  Production doesn’t require huge amounts of nitrogen fertilizer and oats are relatively cheap.  Local seed dealers, not necessarily the big seed companies, have several varieties available that do well here.  And in a pinch, clean bin run oats will work.  Keep in mind oats don’t like acid soils or certain herbicides like atrazine so care should be taken in field selection.  With their low test weight the minimum planting rate is two bushels per acre and for forage three is better under adequate moisture.  Cattle are placed on oat pasture when the plants are well-rooted and four to six inches tall.  Length of grazing depends on the weather and stocking rate.  Oats also produce good hay for cattle and horses when harvested at the early milk stage but a nitrate test is recommended. 
• Winter wheat or triticale – This may sound a little crazy but it can work.  Remember, you aren’t concerned with grain production.  These would be planted a bit later than oats unless weather is favorable.  Without vernalization, exposure to an extended period of cold, they won’t head out and remain in a vegetative growth stage.  In fact, work at the South Central Experiment Field southwest of Hutchinson demonstrated growth that essentially mirrored a typical lawn in appearance and growth.  Again two bushel per acres is necessary and if conditions permit, three bushels would be better.  If weather stays moderate, grazing can start in mid to late April and last into June.
• One caveat – It is against the label to graze treated seed and while it generally won’t cause great harm, it does negatively affect animal health and performance.
This is only a sketch of what can be done so if there are questions, please contact me at or 620-792-9207.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.