Warm-Season Grass Field Day
About 100 farmers and landowners got a firsthand look at warm-season grasses (WSGs) at the Christian County Warm-season Grass Field Day July 2 at Bohmont Ranch near Bruner, Mo. Here's some of the highlights.
Tim Schnakenberg, agronomy specialist and county program director for Stone County and the Southwest Region of the University of Missouri Extension, compared various WSGs for grazing. The grazing season for switchgrass and eastern gamagrass is mid-May to mid-August, followed by mid-June to Sept. 1 for big bluestem and Indiangrass and ending June 1 to mid- or late September for Caucasian bluestem and Bermuda grass. He also discussed turn-in and turn-out heights, rest periods, grazing periods and minimum pastures needed.
In comparing WSGs to fescue, he showed that the cost of producing three tons of fescue hay per acre is $153 for fertilizer compared to $73 for the same tonnage for WSGs. Schnakenberg said WSGs do best in a soil pH of 5.5 to 6. Fertilizer is generally applied in May but can be split. He warned that getting WSG seed may be a challenge until more seed production ramps up.
Rancher and WSG seed producer Terry Bohmont said June and July are the best months for WSG hay production. Expect on average six to eight tons per acre and a relative feed value on average in the upper 70s to low 80s. Protein average is 10 to 12 percent.
Bohmont said WSGs will respond to fertilizer, but he has not fertilized this year because of the high price. When he does fertilize, he never exceeds 30 lbs. per acre. He also broadcasts red clover in February and March in his WSG fields. He includes Caucasian bluestem – not a native grass – in his mix because it makes good summer pasture.
Hay harvest guidelines
Mark Green, district conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service for Greene and Webster Counties, provided guidance on the optimum stage to harvest, approximate dates and stubble height for various WSGs. For example, big bluestem is best harvested at boot, 24-inch to 30-inch tall in early to mid-July, leaving stubble at 3-inch to 6-inch. Switchgrass, on the other hand, is best harvested at boot 30-inch to 45-inch tall in early June to late July, leaving 3-inch to 6-inch stubble.
He warned against cutting WSGs too short and said to have 10” of regrowth before a killer frost, otherwise the stand will be stunted.
Standing in a field of big bluestem, Andy Humble, private lands conservationist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said cultivating quail habitat often requires learning different management techniques than farmers are accustomed to. Ideal quail habitat features more sparsely sowed grasses and a diverse mix of WSGs, forbs, wildflowers, wildlife friendly cold-season grasses and legumes. Quail also like edge between fields and woods, containing shrubs, weeds, vines and small and large trees.
One technique is to “hinge cut” a tree, felling it so it remains attached on one side and providing a living brush pile.