The weather this year has been a roller coaster. We have had a tremendous amount of rain throughout the spring and into the summer. Hay producers could not get into the fields to bale their hay on time. First cutting hay was very mature. This would a great year to plant a winter pasture.
Producers need to begin planning in August to have a winter pasture to be planted in the middle of the September to October time frame. This is the time to sod seed small grains such as cereal rye, wheat, oats and ryegrass into Berrmuda grass or Bahia grass pastures for some excellent late winter and early spring grazing. This could also let you supplement your hay supply. I would go ahead and book the seed because small grains will not be in great supply this year because of excess rains that we had early on.
Small grain pasture provides high quality forage, which can supplement (if limit grazed) or substitute for hay to carry your herd through to next spring. When the small grains are sod seeded into existing Bermuda grass or Bahia grass pastures, it provides solid footing for cattle through wet periods. Sod seeding also allows small grains to be grown in areas where seedbed preparation is not feasible.
In many places, wheat is the small grain of choice, but cereal rye and ryegrass can also be used. Cereal rye usually will cost a little more per acre to establish due to the higher price of seed. However, cereal rye has more fall growth potential and normally provides better fall grazing. It is the most cold tolerant of the small grains. Cereal rye will end its growing season early in the spring, allowing Bermuda grass to begin its growing season with little or no competition. Ryegrass is less expensive to establish, but does not provide much fall or early winter grazing when sod seeded. The growing season for ryegrass does not end until May-June, which makes it compete with early Bermuda grass or Bahia grass growth. This competition limits Bermuda grass production during its most productive time of year. Wheat provides moderate fall grazing and lasts longer than cereal rye, but not as long as ryegrass. Utilizing small grain forage by early May will reduce competition with warm season grasses.
Hold off nitrogen applications until there is a frost that will cause the warm season grasses to go into dormancy. Apply 50 to 60 pounds actual nitrogen (108 to 130 pounds of urea or 150 to 180 pounds of ammonium nitrate) after the warm season grass goes dormant. An additional top dress of 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen will need to be applied in late January or early February. Increasing the stocking rate in the spring will take advantage of the abundant forage produced in the early spring. Try to graze the winter pasture out by the end of April to allow for Bermuda grass fertilization and growth.
Small grains can be a tool to help extend hay supplies and increase milk production in fall and early winter calving cows. I have at the office three different publications I wrote on winter pasture establishment. Feel free to stop by and pick up a copy. Remember to keep a high magnesium mineral out for cows that are nursing calves and running on small grain pastures.
If you have any questions, please contact Clint Perkins at the Smith County Extension office, 1517 W. Front St., Suite 116, in Tyler, or call 903-590-2980.