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Use of cool-season forages can allow livestock producers to extend the grazing season and reduce the need for stored feeds, according to Mississippi State University forage specialists. Mississippi producers are fortunate to be able to grow a large number of forage crops, says Rocky Lemus, MSU Extension assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, including warm- and cool-season species of legumes and grasses, and both perennial and annual forages are common.
Mississippi State University has been evaluating ryegrasses at four locations in the state for 35 years or more, Lemus says, seeking ways to obtain more uniform production. “We’re also looking at mixtures of early- and late-maturing varieties to see if they can offer an advantage over planting a single variety.”
Tetraploid varieties are more suited to the southern areas of the state, he says, while diploid varieties perform better in the northern areas.
Comparisons of mixtures to Marshall, a long-used variety, have shown yield advantages from 236 pounds per acre (Bulldog Grazer) to 408 pounds (Chipola plus Marshall) to 612 pounds (TAM TBO). Yields were from three harvests in an ongoing study.
Mixtures were planted Oct. 20, 2010, at 30 pounds per acre, split equally between the two varieties. Fertilization was 150 pounds of nitrogen as ammonium nitrate per acre in split application of 50 pounds two weeks after emergence, 50 pounds after first cut, 25 pounds each after second and third cuts.
“We also plan to do an economic analysis of the mixtures versus monoculture,” Lemus notes.
He cautioned that forage producers need to be careful when considering the use of products being offered to enhance nitrogen utilization or to limit nitrogen volatilization.
“In our tests, when compared to the control, we do see an increase in yield for most of these products — but, it often is only a slight increase that might not offset the cost of the product and application.
“Also, with cool temperatures early in the season, there is not a lot of nitrogen volatilization, so even if you’re considering using one of these products, you may not want to do so with your first application.”
At the fescue plots, Lemus said “most fescues in Mississippi do well for three or four years, then stands start to decline.”
It costs $80 to $100 per acre to establish MaxQ, a widely-used variety, he says. “There are some new, novel endophyte varieties that have been tested with significant animal performance when compared to MaxQ , but they are not cot commercially available at the moment.
“We’re also looking at seven endophyte-free varieties, alone and with white and red clover. These varieties can last four or five years and cost only about $30 to $40 per acre to establish. We will also evaluate them for economics and performance.”
Fescues have to be carefully managed in the spring, and shouldn’t be grazed until they are well-established, Lemus says.
“The main reason fescues don’t work well for many producers is that they see the plants greening up and immediately start grazing — but you need to babysit fescue until it gets established.”