Farm and Ranch
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
By Rayford Pullen
Jul 11, 2017
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Fall is just around the corner and now is the time to make plans for our winter forage program.  How much, what and when are just a few of the questions we need to be thinking about since, in the North Texas area, our ryegrass and small grains will be planted in September.  This article will be devoted primarily to the best method on ďhow to plantĒ your winter forages to get the best results.  Most of these planting methods can also be found by going to our web site,, and clicking on the Marshall Ryegrass tab.

Over seeding perennial pastures is by far and away the most popular way winter forages are planted by cattle producers.  Most failures are seen where pastures are seeded by either a no till drill or broadcast into a pasture where the grass is so tall that sunlight cannot reach the seed after it germinates.  Plants do not grow in the shade and as a result, there will not be much if any growth until the existing forage has been set back by a freeze which usually occurs in November and by that time day length is shorter, temperatures are lower and there is little to no growth until spring.

There are several options to prevent this and the best overall, in my opinion, is to graze the pasture very short then run a disc over it set straight since we are not trying to turn any soil but only trying to cut the roots on the existing pasture to allow sunlight penetration to begin as soon as the winter forage germinates.  In the case of broadcast seed, it makes no difference if you disc prior to or immediately after seeding.  If the seed is planted with a no till drill, running the disc prior to planting would be our choice.  While not entirely required if using a no till drill, the disc will set the grass back better than the drill.  Research done on this resulted in doubling the amount of fall forage verses planting in short grass only.

If planting on what us cowboys call plowed ground, which is usually only a disking or two, running a packer over the plowed ground before you broadcast your seed and fertilizer will allow you to start grazing about a month or more earlier than if the seed is placed on soft ground.  For years we ran a packer or a roller, same thing to us, over our plowed ground after we seeded.  When we changed to rolling prior, we started grazing three weeks earlier.  Verses not rolling or packing at all, we were grazing about six weeks earlier.  I donít know why or how this speeds up the grass growth so much but it does.  We donít try to rationalize it any more, we just do it because it works.

How much(acres) you need depends on your cow herd size, whether you retain calves or not, and land resources.  We retain our calves and our stocking rate is about 600 pounds of calf per acre in the fall.  That would be two 300-pound calves. one 600-pound calf or one and a half 400-pound calves per acre.  This rate may be more or less depending on the rainfall but 600 pounds is our average in the fall.  Beginning in March we can more than double our stocking rates.

We plant mostly Marshall or Nelson ryegrass for our cattle and normally only graze our calves which would require one acre per calf weaned.  Some producers will use a combination of cereal grains (wheat or rye) with ryegrass.  We have also used a combination of seed in the past because our ryegrass was slower to come than the small grains, but when we started packing, we went with straight ryegrass.  We like the straight ryegrass because it last about a month longer in the spring (we plan to graze until June 1) and we havenít had the health issues of wheat(bloat) or insect issues (greenbugs).  Army worms can still be a problem on all winter forages.  Rye was our choice in previous years and we really liked it because it tolerated acid soils better than the other small grains and that was an issue for us, plus the insects didnít affect it like they do wheat.

Seeding rates seem to run all over the board but we prefer to plant 25-30 pounds of ryegrass in pure stands or 10-15 pounds when used with rye (60 pounds per acre).  We havenít seen a need to use wheat in a livestock grazing program due to the insect and animal health issues.

Enjoy the last few weeks of a summer that has been generous in rain fall and milder than average temperatures.

It is a great time to be in the cattle business.