Warm-Season Grasses An Alternative to Fescue
Comparing warm season grass grazing is worthy when fescue toxicosis prompts cows to stand in the pond this August. 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. Tim Schnakenberg, University of Missouri Extension said 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.
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.
WSGs will respond to fertilizer, but he has not fertilized this year because of the high price. When applying fertilizer, experts recommend never exceeding 30 lbs. per acre. Some producers have had success broadcasting red clover in February and March in WSG fields and including Caucasian bluestem – not a native grass – in the mix because it makes good summer pasture.
Hay harvest guidelines
Mark Green, a district conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service, 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.
Andy Humble, private lands conservationist with the 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.
Biomass for Fuel
Ed Cahoj of Halfway, Mo., president of the National Biomass Producers Association (NBPA), announced NBPA is partnering with Renewable Oil International, LLC to convert non-grain biomass into fuel for transportation and power production.
The two organizations plan to build portable processors to be hauled to a farmer’s field where they will convert locally produced biomass into bio-oil. The fuel can be burned in space heaters, boilers (including those used by power plants), furnaces and diesel engines.
In particular, Cahoj encouraged Ozarks farmers to consider growing switchgrass as a new crop and to join the NBPA in promoting it as a biofuel.