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Hereford calf standing in a pasture

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Coming out of the wettest winter on record, Alabama farmers face a different set of obstacles this spring. To overcome this, farmers will have to change many of their management strategies to ensure the health of the land and livestock.

Livestock

Kim Mullenix, an Alabama Extension animal science specialist, said cattle could need additional supplementation.

“As cattle make the transition from winter to spring, producers should body condition score their herds to determine if additional supplementation is needed,” Mullenix said. “Cattle have greater maintenance requirements when they are in muddy, wet conditions for an extended period of time because they expend extra energy walking through these conditions.”

According to Mullenix, if cattle are visibly losing body condition, they may need a supplementation with high energy feed (greater than 65 percent total digestible nutrients) to help them maintain or recover following wet periods.

Many producers are currently in a calving season. As best as possible, producers should provide a dry or drier spot on the farm for their cows to calve.

“Excess mud and wet conditions during calving can lead to issues with calf scours and potentially other health issues,” she said. “Monitor cows during calving, and check cattle regularly during the early days after calving.”

Feeding Hay in Pastures

​The increased rainfall may have producers changing their feeding schedule. Beef cattle producers should prepare to feed hay longer into early spring than they normally would. Mullenix said feeding hay longer will allow pastures to dry out and rest.

“Extremely wet pastures are prone to pugging or damage from hoof action of grazing cattle,” Mullenix said. “Improved grazing management practices, such as rotational grazing or limit grazing, may allow producers to use cool-season forages for a short period of time, while allowing the pasture to rest and recover.”

Leanne Dillard, an Alabama Extension forage specialist, said when feeding hay in pastures, it is important to be mindful of protecting the land.

“To combat the increase in rainfall, it is important that farmers limit foot traffic in pastures to reduce sod disturbance,” Dillard said. “To do this, allocate a sacrifice area for feeding to reduce damage to the entire pasture.”

Forages

Heading into spring, which traditionally sees a lot of rainfall and after a wet winter, forages may suffer. Most forages can handle flooding for seven to 10 days. However, if subjected to continuous flooding, it will likely kill the plants. Dillard said while rain is good for forage growth, the cloudy days that come with it are not.

“Forage growth will be limited by a lack of solar energy available to plants,” Dillard said. “Forage yield may be reduced for now. However, once the sun returns, forages will grow quickly and may get ahead of you.” 

The rain may have also delayed applications of fertilizer to forages. Once a field is dry enough to cross with equipment, Dillard recommends farmers apply supplemental nitrogen. Farmers should base this application on the recommendations to fulfill that crop’s needs. Contact an Alabama Extension animal sciences and forages regional agent for help determining nitrogen fertilizer recommendations.

Dillard said farmers should not apply fertilizer or chicken litter if there is 1 inch of rainfall or more expected within the next week.

“If a farmer applies a fertilizer before large rainfall events (1 inch or more), it will likely leach out before the plants can use any of it,” Dillard said.

In pastures with areas of damaged perennial forages because of foot traffic or flooding, farmers should reseed those areas.

“If the area is a warm-season perennial (i.e., bermudagrass or bahiagrass), you can replant in April or May,” Dillard said. “If it is tall fescue, plan to reseed the area in the early fall.”

Before planting, make sure to smooth out any ruts created by equipment traffic.

Harvesting Hay

The level of moisture when baling is an important aspect to producing high quality hay. If excessive amounts of rainfall continue, there may not be an adequate amount of sun to properly cure the hay.

Dillard said if the curing window is small, farmers can use a conditioner to reduce the curing time. They can also utilize a hay preservative.

“Hay that will be baled at 18 to 30 percent moisture can be treated with a hay preservative. A preservative will reduce microbial growth and the likelihood of spontaneous combustion,” Dillard said. “However, even when using hay preservatives, care should be taken when baling hay with a moisture greater than 16 to 18 percent.”

For bales harvested at this moisture level, check their internal temperatures frequently. Also, store the hay outside to reduce fire risk. The risk of fire will diminish approximately one month after baling. Dillard said farmers can also wrap this hay to create baleage.

“The optimum moisture for baleage is 50 to 55 percent moisture,” Dillard said. “Wrap bales with five to six layers of pre-stretched baleage wrap.”

More Information

For more information on combating wet conditions related to livestock and forages, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu, or contact your county Extension office.

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