UT Beef and Forage Center

Forage Management and Production- Article

Gary BatesDr. Gary Bates, Professor and Director, UT Beef and Forage Center    

(865) 974-7324


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Dear Dr. G – I have been producing grass-fed beef, and the calves are not growing as fast as they should. I have tried all different types of forages. What can I do?  Stumped in Stanton.

Terrance, I understand the situation. Let me give you a personal example to help.  Over the years I have put on a few pounds. I know, it’s hard to believe, because I look so trim and fit. There may be an issue with what I eat. French fries have a lot of carbs in them. But a lot of it is the amount I eat. Take this principle and flip it for your calves. Cattle will gain faster on clovers than grass, but if we want them to gain more, it might not be what they have available but the amount.  Don’t graze your pastures too close, but let the animals be selective and just eat the tips of leaves and clovers instead of having to eat the lower quality stems.  Give the grass-fed animals plenty of forage to graze.  Then, after you move them to a new field, let your cows or other low producing animals clean up the remaining forage.

Dr. G, I have a problem.  I seeded tall fescue last fall, but this spring all I had was annual ryegrass in the field.  I suspect the seed I bought was contaminated.  How can I prevent this from happening again? Replanter in Riceville.

So, Replanter, I hear this question more times that I care to remember.  It is always possible that the seed you bought was contaminated with annual ryegrass, but usually it is unlikely.  Sadly, at this point there is no way to know.  But for future plantings, there are several things to do.  First, buy certified seed if possible.  Always look at the seed tag on the bag.  It will tell you the percent weed seed in that seed lot.  The second thing to do is always put a small sample of seed and the seed tag in a plastic bag to keep in your refrigerator until everything germinates and you are sure you have what you planted. That way, if you get severe weed contamination, the seed can be tested to see what species it is. 

I need you to settle an argument between me and my sister-in-law.  She says we can plant tall fescue pastures in spring or fall, but I think you should only plant in fall.  What do you say, Dr. G? Arguing in Adams.

Dear Arguing- this is my favorite question ever. There is nothing I enjoy more than putting a sister-in-law in her place. I’ve got three of them, and it is a full-time job.  I’ve got this one that …. Well never mind. But back to your question. You are correct, fall is the best time to plant tall fescue.  Fall planting give the longest time for the seedlings to get established and have a good root system so they can survive summer heat and drought.  If you spring plant, the seedlings will be small with weak root systems when June and July arrive. Drought, heat, and competition from crabgrass and other summer weeds may result in a partial or total stand failure. Always plant cool-season perennial grasses in spring.  And FYI- I love my sisters-in-law dearly.

I need some help, Dr. G.  I am tired of having to feed so much hay during the winter. It seems like all I ever do is either make hay or feed hay.  Is there another option? Tired in Tazewell.

Dear Tired – I totally understand. One way to handle it is to make one of your kids do it.  My statement is “Jed go’ as in “Jed go mow the grass” or “Jed go pick the garden” or “Jed go feed the chickens.”  When “Jed go” becomes “Jed goes to live somewhere else” I will have a problem. You may end up with the same issue. So don’t follow that advice. Let’s look at trying graze more and feed less.  One of the best ways to do that is to stockpile tall fescue in the fall.  Take some of your best tall fescue pastures and set them aside in September and October so they can accumulate forage.  Then graze them in November, December, and maybe even January.  It can reduce hay feeding by a significant amount.  If there is good soil moisture in September, you might even fertilize with 30-60 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  Setting aside a few acres will allow the grass to yield more than if you have cattle on it the entire period.  At least try a few acres this fall and see how many days of grazing you get from it.