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  • Writer's picturejphaskell

Spring is always late – Plan now to have forage later

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz

I wonder where the birdies is…

Is the song my grandfather used to sing every spring. While we make allowances for artistic license, I feel like this song is backwards. It seems to me that the bluebirds arrive when the grass might look a little green, but there isn’t really enough to eat. Cow condition always seems to slip a little as they chase the first green of spring. But that’s a harder rhyme.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to make a plan for next May. Instead of chasing new growth on bright green pastures, cows do better if that new growth is emerging through some brown residual. As pleasing as bright green pastures are to our eye, cows perform better on a slightly browner color. The mix of quality allows them to select an ideal diet from the old and new growth. Having a mix of old and new growth also allows cows to gradually change from an all brown diet of hay to an all green diet of summer forage.

It’s no coincidence that fields with higher residual, tend to produce more early-season forage than fields grazed short. Just look at your ditch banks, fence lines, and woodlots where you didn’t mow. The new green growth will be much taller and more abundant than the adjacent mowed areas. Residual grass creates a benign micro-climate that traps warmth and provides insulation from fluctuating spring temperatures, catches moisture and reduces evaporative loss, and keeps the wind from scouring your ground. I used to worry about too much residual interfering with new growth, but I don’t anymore. I know there are places where that can happen, but so far I’ve never lived there.

Our forage plan should always include the fact that real grass, meaning the kind you can fill a cow on, comes later than we think. It’s a long time between the first tinge of green and having a grazable volume. I’d like a calving cow to have both good quality and good volume in front of them. So, where am I going to find that next spring? What do I need to do today to make that happen next May?

It won’t happen by accident; I need to plan for it.

Winter comes every year and spring always comes later than we think. And the less feed we have, the later it seems to come. As our hay stack and cash reserves shrink, sometimes we are forced to make less than optimal decisions. Plan now to avoid that next year.

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