Fescue hay comes up short in May as weather, day length cut quality
COLUMBIA, Mo. – First-cutting of hay from fescue fields fizzled after a promising start, say University of Missouri forage specialists.
“We’re getting lots of calls about fescue with no leaves and lots of seed stems,” says Rob Kallenbach, MU Extension specialist. He spoke on the weekly teleconference with regional specialists.
Weather determines grass leaf growth. Day length triggers seed head development.
“Come mid-May, fescue sets seed heads. That has nothing to do with rain or temperature,” Kallenbach says. “Reproduction time is about day length.”
Craig Roberts, MU fescue specialist, says this hasn’t been a good year for first-cutting fescue hay.
A cold late spring delayed green-up time. “When the grass finally started, farmers were waiting to turn the cows out,” Roberts says. “Many ran out of hay and needed the grass. Cows were ready for green grass as well.
“We saw a lot of overgrazing on that first growth.”
When warm weather arrived, cool-season grasses grew quickly, making lots of dry matter per acre. But the heavy grazing stunted regrowth.
For maximum regrowth, grazing cows should be removed from a grass paddock when at least 3 inches of leaf remains on the plant.
Each partial leaf is a solar collector, turning sunlight into energy in the grass.
“If grass is grubbed down to an inch, recovery will be extremely slow,” Roberts says.
This year, regrowth was slower than usual because of the cool weather. “Even for cool-season grass, this was not grass-growing weather,” he says.
“An ideal average temperature would be 75 degrees. But when high for the day is only 75, that means an hour or two of good growing temperatures.
“What hurt even more was the cool nighttime temperatures. Grass grows at night. Grass is not like a farmer, going to bed after the 10 o’clock weather. It keeps growing if the temperature stays warm.”
When nighttime temperatures fall into the 40s, grass stops growing. It takes a while to warm and restart growth the next day.
Roberts describes a silver lining. “When seed stems are removed quickly with the first cutting of hay, leafy regrowth will come,” he says.
“We have a forecast for warm temperatures and more rain. There can be lots of quality hay made in the second cutting.”
Also, remove seed heads from grazing paddocks. “Trim it down to about 3 inches,” Roberts says. “Those seed stems become dead sticks that poke a grazing cow in the eye.”
Pat Guinan, MU Extension climatologist, reported another week of unsettled weather, with a flow of Gulf air coming north. Temperatures will be above normal.
Much of the state can expect an inch of rain, with 2 inches in the northwest.
“Warm air and rain will grow grass,” Roberts says. “Second-growth fescue will be high quality, with no seed heads and low endophyte toxin levels.”