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Spring pasture for grazing
Dr. Victor Martin

The Drought Monitor is essentially unchanged this week and any moisture from the end of the past week will show up this week. It would take a significant amount of moisture, especially with these warmer temperatures, to significantly improve conditions in Northwest Kansas. The six to ten-day outlook (March 9 to 13) indicates a good chance of above normal temperatures and slightly above normal precipitation.  The eight to 14 day outlook (March 11 to March 17) indicates slightly below normal temperatures and normal precipitation. After this warm weather, and hopefully some good rain, this past week, it appears wheat is greening up. The earlier planted fields with better crown development overall look the best but some of the late planted wheat is also trying. Within several weeks we should have a pretty good idea about how the wheat fared during the polar vortex.

Almost every spring, cattle producers and in other areas of the state, sheep producers have a period where there are short of pasture for grazing. It may be caused by poor green up of their winter wheat, rye, or triticale pastures. Perhaps overgrazing hurt the stand. Maybe poor weather has slowed the green up of cool season grasses or you need to pull you cattle off wheat to produce a grain crop. This challenge can result in added feed costs that producers would like to avoid. If moisture and soil conditions permit there are some possible options to help bridge the gap and hopefully save money.

• For all of these options, it’s important to remember to not use treated seed as it’s off-label, can effect gain, and can show up in the meat.

• An obvious option for many, though most grow it for hay, is spring oats with now as the ideal planting time. Planting two or even three bushels per acre of oats with minimal fertilizer nitrogen, can provide approximately a month or even more of grazing if weather cooperates and conditions don’t become too hot too quickly. You don’t want to over fertilize nitrogen as oats are known to accumulate nitrates. It can be grazed out or chemically killed to plant a crop such as soybeans or milo directly into it without tillage if the cattle haven’t cut up the ground too much.

• A less obvious option is planting a winter cereal such as winter wheat, rye, or triticale. If you have some leftover untreated seed or can obtain some, it’s normally not very expensive. Soon is a good time to plant and probably at two or even more bushels of seed per acre with good soil moisture. These are winter cool season grasses which means they will never bolt and head out as they can’t flower before being exposed to cold temperatures. You don’t have to worry about them heading out and if well-established will grow like and look like a grass lawn. If the weather provides decent moisture and it doesn’t become too hot too early, under good conditions you might be able to obtain almost two months of adequate pasture. Again, you can work the plants under or chemically kill them with plenty of time for soybeans or milo.

• All of the options depend on the weather cooperating but for a producer looking for pasture and with decent conditions, you can have a bridge until perennial pastures are ready.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.