Christmas is such a wonderful, sweet time to celebrate the birth of Jesus with our family, friends, and our community. With it being so close to the start of a new year, I can’t help but to reflect on the successes and struggles of 2019. Take advantage of this time of personal reflection and make a plan for 2020. Are there things from 2019 you’d like to change? Are there things you’d like to do the same?
This is also a great time to think about your farming practices, specifically your foraging program. What things went well this year? What things could be improved? Can you attribute successes or failures to a particular management practice? Weather obviously plays a major part in our forage success or failure, so be sure to strengthen your management practices and strategies to help minimize the negative impacts of weather on your forages.
According to the article “A Time for Reflection,” by Dr. Gary Bates, Director of the UT Beef and Forage Center, the following are three things to consider now that can be put into practice in the coming months:
Consider adding clover to your grass pastures and hayfields. “The yield of a tall fescue-clover mixture will be equal to a pure tall fescue stand fertilized in spring with 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre. With the price of fertilizer, this can save a significant amount of money,” Bates says. Clovers are vital to an efficient forage program. Not only do they add much needed nitrogen to your soil, they also help to improve overall forage quality and lower the impact of the tall fescue endophyte. Dr. Bates suggests to seed 2 pounds of ladino white clover and 4 pounds of red clover per acre (be sure to use pre-inoculated seeds, or inoculate yourself). Using this combination of red and white clovers lengthen the clover production season.
Improve grazing yield and persistence by allowing pasture plants to regrow. “…overgrazing during the spring will limit plant root growth, setting your pastures up to be more sensitive to summer heat and drought,” Dr. Bates says. You can avoid overgrazing by incorporating rotational grazing methods. By cutting the size of your grazing pastures down with temporary fencing, you’ll be able to rotate your animals off adequately grazed pastures to allow the leaves to regrow and replace energy needed for survival that is stored in the roots. Tall fescue should be grazed down to 3-4 inches and be allowed to regrow to 8-10 inches before regrazing.
Be mindful of your soil pH! Soil pH influences the availability of soil nutrients to the plant. Per Dr. Bates, Tennessee soils tend to naturally have a pH range from 5.6-6.0. When your soil pH drops below 6, your vital soil nutrients like nitrogen, phosphate, and potash get bound to the soil particles rather than being available in the soil water, which means your plant roots cannot uptake those vital nutrients. Also, that more acidic environment releases some not so good elements from the soil particles to the soil water, which interfere with root growth. In short, when your pH drops below 6, “the good nutrients are bound, the bad nutrients are released, and we’ve got a mess” (Dr. Bates). With that being said, the ideal soil pH range for most forage crops is 6.5. It’s important to know that the soil pH cannot be raised quickly. Check your soil test results and add lime as soon as possible if needed to de-acidify your soil. It can take 6-12 months to see results. Dr. Bates recommends soil testing once every three years to keep track of your soil pH.
These are just a few ways to compare your management practices to see if there might be areas to improve upon to ensure a strong, nutritious stand of forages for 2020. Consider 2019 and see if there are any other areas that could use some improvement. Remember…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
I hope this Christmas season is filled with peace, love, and joy. Try not to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. Enjoy this precious time with your family, no matter how big or small, and celebrate the Greatest Gift of all. Reflect on all of your blessings, and you’ll discover that you are truly blessed beyond measure. Merry Christmas!
*References: “Steps for Establishing Clover in Pastures” by Dr. Gary Bates, “A Time for Reflection” by Dr. Gary Bates, “Why is Lime Important?” by Dr. Gary Bates.