Five Considerations as Pastures Transition to Cold, Wet Weather

The fall season generates many questions for our team related to pasture and hay management. This time of year, thoughts frequently turn to maintaining present pasture conditions while managing for maximum forage yields and quality next spring. It makes sense to share a few best practices related to taking care of production fields as the weather turns colder and more inclement:

  • Depending on region, it may already be too late to over-seed or inter-seed into existing pastures. Keep in mind any tillage (even light tillage) can lead to increased soil losses as winter approaches, especially on hilly or “HEL” ground. In areas where the calendar still allows for fall seeding, consider species that germinate quickly and have potential to withstand early winter conditions. Ryegrass or winter small grains may be a good option.
  • We promote thinking about fertility early and often, and for good reason. Fall offers the best time to add needed fertility, especially for primary nutrients like Phosphorus and Potassium, along with Sulfur – all of which take longer to become available to the plant versus Nitrogen. Fertilizer added in fall not only replaces nutrients removed from forage harvest, but also helps maintain proper plant health through winter while enhancing growth potential next spring. While fertility is crucial, proper pH is even more so. Conditions this time of year are well suited for lime to be translocated into the soil – so your pastures can start utilizing it next spring. If not already done, we recommend having your soil tested and applying proper amendments accordingly.
  • It is also a good time to think about soil compaction and its effects on plant damage. Pressure from livestock traffic can cause significant compaction. Compaction leads to reductions in water infiltration and root vigor, which in turn increases likelihood for wind and water erosion. In efforts to maximize stockpiled forage, it is a common mistake to let livestock stay on pasture too long (especially as soils become overly saturated). Heavy animal traffic can easily damage forage plants by crushing crowns and negatively affecting root structure.
  • How late should livestock be allowed to graze? The rule of thumb for grazing is “take half and leave half” and to not let pastures be grazed below 3-4 inches in height. Oregon State research shows that removing more than 50% of plant material will start negatively impacting root growth. Excessive grazing in wet and cold months makes pasture plants more susceptible to winter damage, while increasing the likelihood of disease.
  • When the time comes to augment your feeding system with round bales, remember the common causes of waste. It’s always a good rule to feed bales that are stored outside before those stored inside, and always feed hay in areas of your pasture or paddock that are well drained.
Fall reminds us to take inventory of what we have, which can’t be done without proper measurement. Available to dealers are pasture “grazing sticks”. This handy tool helps producers estimate many useful metrics, from identifying grazeable forage potential per day to helping calculate acres needed for forage based on number and type of landscape. Please contact us for more details.

With a few simple and timely management practices you can ensure better pastures and more productive livestock on your lands.

Early Fall Seeding 101 – The “Simple 6”

With fall just beginning, now is the perfect time to inspect pastures and hay fields to see how they held up through summer. Whether fields have recently experienced dry conditions or too much moisture, pinpointing areas for improvement must happen fast.

If stand enhancements are necessary, seeding should take place as soon as possible. Assuming one can still plant and conditions are favorable, a late summer/early fall seeding is advantageous to areas susceptible to spring flooding or parts of the field that remain wet. Seedlings with access to good moisture, whether from spring or winter snow, will be much further ahead. Below are reminders to ensure these plantings have every chance at success:

1. Keep it simple. Recognize which species help the existing stand. Depending on grazing management or weed control practices (or herbicides) earlier in the season, it may make sense to stick to single species additions. Planting single species into existing fields makes it easier to gauge seeding effectiveness. If the current stand is too thin, more species may be needed to fill in weak areas quickly. Don’t put alfalfa mixes in wet soil environments or seed a slow establishing forage grass where quick germination is needed.

2. Acknowledge that fertilizer may be needed. If fertility levels are unknown, take a soil test and send off quickly. Certain species may need additional nutrients to achieve their full benefit. For example, if legumes are needed but pH and overall fertility aren’t ideal for alfalfa production, consider alsike or red clover. For grasses, up to 150-200 lbs. of actual N are needed to maximize production.

3. Don’t skimp on seeding rates. Seed investments are minimal compared to time and equipment allotments. Due to known inevitability that some seeds will not make it through the winter, it’s always wise to bump up seeding rates at least 20-25%.

4. Use the correct seeding method. Simple broadcasting (followed by harrowing) in fall often doesn’t work well due not only to weather and/or moisture, but also mainly due to poor seed-to-soil contact. Seeding into a firm seedbed allows maximum seed-to-soil contact and results in good germination and emergence. Also, no-till seeding into existing cover or crop residue aids establishment by reducing the chance of seed being moved by water or wind. Although many forage plantings only call for 1/8”-1/4” seeding depth, seed must be in and not on the ground. If limitations still call for broadcasting, make sure a cultipacker or other equipment designed to firm up soil are used.

5. Follow guidelines for the correct seeding time. If conditions are drier, don’t wait too long and miss your seeding window altogether. One factor growers usually can’t control is the amount of moisture received (unless under irrigation). Usually it takes more than 100% of the seed’s weight in water to promote germination. Once seed germinates, keep watch. If something must be done, it may make sense to deal with it now versus later.

6. Most importantly, choose the correct variety for the region and application. Variety selection is often the difference between a persistent, viable stand and a short-lived, non-producing failure. Even if every other step is executed perfectly, stand establishment is still no guarantee if the wrong variety is planted.

Grasses that germinate quickly are always something to consider when time is running out.Forage First Jump Start Pasture Mix  is a perfect option since it’s made up of ryegrass varieties known for quick establishment. Because Jump Start germinates quickly and tolerates less-than-ideal soil conditions, it could be the right decision for summer-damaged areas or feeding areas where existing forage is torn up or overly compacted. Ryegrass, fescues and orchardgrass are all solid choices to thicken-up weak pastures and hay fields.


Another set of options to extend the grazing season are cool season annual forages. Cereal grains like oats, triticale and cereal rye have been used successfully alongside turnips and other brassica crops. Mixes like oats and cereal rye with winter peas also work well. While most forage growth takes place with annuals when planted in August or earlier, there’s still time to take advantage of the few Growing Degree Days left. Again, consider cereal grains as they offer the greatest flexibility of delayed seeding.


Consider a mix like Soil First™ 140 Multi-Purpose. 140 was created as a fall and early winter forage source. Hy-Octane Triticale is the base for 140 – triticale provides the benefits of rye’s forage production with winter wheat’s overall forage quality. Brassicas in the mix provide multiple grazing opportunities while peas offer dual flexibility of both grazing or balage/silage.

When’s the Right Time to Seed Forages in Late Summer?

August and September give many producers across the Midwest another window of opportunity to establish perennial forages. Not only does this time of year fit well into many cash crop rotations (like after small grain harvest), but other advantages exist when seeding in late summer compared to spring:

  • Late summer planting usually means less competition from winter and summer annual weeds
  • Warmer soils usually equate to quicker, more even germination and resulting establishment
  • For legumes, warmer, dry soils usually lessen issues we face with many root rots and “damping-off” diseases – compared to cooler, wet soils we see in spring
  • More time! Since growers aren’t as concerned with field work associated with spring planted cash crops, less short-cuts happen… forage plantings demand the same effort as any other important crop

A common concern is perceived lack of (consistent) moisture. With many forage seeds planted only ¼” deep, sufficient soil moisture is critical. It makes sense to plant into some level of soil moisture or in advance of a rain event.

The industry often says “fall seeding”, however “late summer” is the more appropriate term and more agronomic too. Research from across the country shows both legume and grasses yield much more prior to winter and the following spring when seeded earlier in the Aug./Sept. window. Legumes especially need adequate time for proper contractile growth (alfalfa) and crown development (clover) – critical to stave off winterkill.

This map illustrates these corresponding dates across much of the Midwest. Recommended late summer seeding dates for alfalfa. Source: Dan Undersander, Univ. of WI. 








These recommendations for alfalfa and all perennial forages are largely based off the average first frost dates across the country – a fact we focus on often when the topic is cover crops. Root systems for perennials usually need 6-10 weeks before our first frost to guarantee overwintering.

Additional Late Summer Forage Seeding Reminders:

  • Plant/drill into a FIRM seed bed. Seed-to-soil contact is the name of the game with any seeding, and late summer is no different. REMEMBER – once the planting is done one should be able to bounce a basketball on your seeded field. If that can’t be done, then soil isn’t firm enough.
  • Inoculate legumes. Nearly all alfalfa and red clover we sell comes pre-inoculated, but not all legumes can be inoculated prior to seeding. Adding fresh inoculant makes sense – it’s inexpensive and helps legumes establish properly. Don’t forget, our LINK inoculant treats most forage and cover crop legumes.
  • Consider recent herbicide applications that may threaten new forage seedings.  Herbicide labels are the law and are meant to keep herbicide residues out of forage crops and subsequent animal tissue. University of Wisconsin has great info on this.
  • Lastly, concentrate on fertility. With alfalfa, pH must be above 6.5 and ideally closer to 7.0. For many forage grasses and other legumes, pH levels above 6.0 should be sufficient. General rules for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are:
    • Add P to soil with levels less than 25 ppm (50 lbs/acre)
    • Add K when levels dip below 125 ppm (250 lbs/acre)


The Path to Clean, Quality Seed

The small seed industry continues to field frequent questions regarding seed quality and cleanliness. The current momentum behind cover crops has opened doors for new outlets and non-conventional channels for seed to find its way to growers. While many of these new avenues involve small grains, other species aren’t clear of potential seed quality concerns.

Besides the adage “Buyer Beware”, we want to share a couple things we are doing to instill confidence in our customers across the country:






We are members of ASTA (American Seed Trade Association) and our own Scott Wohltman chairs the Cover Crop Working Group. ASTA works diligently to not only represent the seed industry, but also communicates to the ag community, and the general public, the safeguards in place within the agricultural seed supply chain while advocating for U.S. growers in today’s global market.

Look for more communication on the work of ASTA members’ further efforts to certify or confirm seed distributors who meet the rising demands of increasing safety measures against weeds. The rise of palmer amaranth and other problematic weed species has highlighted the differences between good and bad in the industry.







We’ve also developed material to underscore the practices and checkpoints La Crosse Seed verifies to make 100% certain the bag and tag delivered to our customer’s door meets the quality standards both you and we require.



Click to view our infographic and short video explaining our Secure Sourced & Supplied Seed Process  or click here for more information.



Weed Inspection & Forage Identification Tips

Summer means weeds in pastures and hay fields become more of a problem. Set aside time to check your hay fields for problems or poisonous weeds that may affect grazing animals or livestock that will soon be fed harvested forage.

Below are resources we recommend keeping handy to identify potentially poisonous weeds for livestock (with herbicide control options):

Forage Identification
At the same time, perhaps it makes sense to identify what basic grass species are in your fields. Below are checkpoints when in the field to help identify species. This is especially useful after a new seeding or inter-seeding practice.

It’s helpful to start by looking for presence of auricles (short attachments at base of leaf blade, usually helping connect lower leaf to stem) and ligules (small, thin tissue at junction of leaf sheath and stem). Another feature is deciding whether your forage grass has either a rolled or folded vernation.

Below are key traits to help you identify some common forage grass species. For additional visual references, visit

Perennial Ryegrass
Glossy underside of leaves
Long auricles
Purpling at base of stem
Folded vernation
No awns on seed (on more mature plants)

Annual Ryegrass
Smooth, shiny underside of leaves
Long auricles
Rolled vernation
Awns present on seed

Blue, emerald tint (even early)
Flat at the base of stem – folded in whorl
Folded vernation
No auricles, but long ligule

Tall Fescue
Wider, thick leaves – prominent veining
Rolled vernation
Short, but hairy auricle

Corm just above the roots
Top leaf twisted clockwise
Rolled vernation

M or W shaped “wrinkle” on leaf
Usually start 2 leaves out of base
No real auricles or ligules
Rolled vernation

Prevent Plant? Maintain Soil Health with These Useful Tips

When fields are open during late spring/summer, whether part of a planned system or created by unfortunate weather, it’s critical to keep soils covered, taking advantage of the longer seeding window and maintaining soil health benefits.

Keep these items in mind if prevent plant is a possibility within your operation:

1. DO SOMETHING. Leaving ground fallow greatly increases risk of erosion and improves the likelihood of leaching nitrates, sulfates and other nutrients that could be used by the following year’s crop. Bare ground also encourages risk of “Fallow Syndrome” the following year. Fallow Syndrome occurs when there’s no plant growth in an area for an extended period. Populations of “good fungi”, called active mycorrhizae, are reduced because they need actively growing roots to survive. These fungi depend on host plants to complete their life cycle. Adding a grass (ryegrass, oats, etc.) or legume such as peas or hairy vetch are extremely beneficial and will better support the good fungi in the soil.

2. DETERMINE YOUR GOALS. There are many “cover crop” options available to use. The crop rotation goals of the producer should help steer the decision. Normally, crop harvest can often limit the time we have available to plant a cover crop, but because our planting window is now early, just about everything can be considered. Again, this should depend on what the producer wants to accomplish with the cover crop planting.

3. UNDERSTAND THE GUIDELINES.If taking the full prevented plant option, haying or grazing is not allowed until after Nov. 1 (or other dates in the Midwest, depending on state or region). Check with your state or county FSA office for further info on grazing restrictions with this program.


4. THINK ABOUT HERBICIDE RESTRICTIONS. Consider herbicides already applied on acres not yet planted. In many cases, cover crops and other non-traditional crops will not be listed on the herbicide label. Many universities are doing more work on this topic to determine what options farmers have in the case of “prevent plant” or other cropping systems that offer quick seeding windows. If a cover crop is being planted for erosion control and won’t be harvested, the grower then assumes the risk if that cover crop doesn’t appear on the herbicide label. However, if that cover crop will be harvested as forage, either mechanically or by livestock, then rotational restrictions on the label must be followed. For more information on herbicide rotational restrictions, refer to FAQ #5 in the Soil First® Management Guide.

Cover crop mixes allow for diversity and opportunity to spread out risk. Mixes also allow for reduced weather risks, help break pest cycles and prevent erosion that some monoculture species are vulnerable to. Added benefits include nitrogen fixing and improved soil health as well.
Access Prevent Plant Info Sheet Here
As always, double check your plans with your crop insurance agent to ensure compliance. For late planting dates and other information for your state, see below:

For more info on insurance programs, including early and final planting dates by county and state, visit:

Measuring Sorghum Quality Vs. Corn

Measuring Sorghum Quality Vs. Corn 
The challenges of Spring 2017 have many producers looking outside the box to produce quality silage for livestock. While many forage options exist, most require a drill to plant and multiple passes over the field for optimum harvest.

One exception to this is forage sorghum. A corn planter or drill can be used to plant this seed and when using the proper maturity, the producer can expect to harvest in a relatively short period. There has been much improvement with forage sorghums the past two decades, including improved standability with a leafier plant, improved digestibility with the BMR6 gene and improved tonnage, often outperforming corn.

95 BMR forage sorghum is the ideal choice for a dairy or feedlot producer looking for a product that can deliver superior silage quality using a one-cut system. Some benefits include:

  • BMR 6 gene: low lignin technology for improved digestibility and feeding efficiency
  • Wide adaptation: can be used in many soil types and production environments
  • Earlier maturity & disease resistance combination allow this hybrid to be used across the U.S. (North to South)

In Southern US: this hybrid works great as a ratooning crop (crop goes to full harvest and is allowed to regrow for additional harvest)

One question we’ve been asked is how does forage sorghum compare to the quality of corn silage?

When managed properly, the 95 BMR not only provides the necessary tonnage, but also provides quality feed that rivals quality corn silage. Many producers rely on the high digestible fiber of the 95 BMR BD to maintain or even improve meat or milk production of their herd. Due to high digestibility, it is recommended to increase cut length to ¾” to 1 ¼” to slow down the passage through the rumen.

Learn more about 95 BMR BD forage sorghum

About The Corner Post

The Corner Post is a periodic email series with timely forage tips from the agronomic experts at 
Forage First and La Crosse Seed. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, contact us here.

Fertilizing Pastures – Holiday Schedule

Good soil fertility is extremely important for productive pastures. Even the best, most improved forage species and varieties need adequate amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as secondary nutrients, to perform their best. We always recommend testing soils first to determine how much fertilizer one may need.

If soil test results show that fertilizer is needed, a good program to follow is to divide your recommended fertilizer amount (based also on your annual production goals) over our three summer holidays: Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Here’s a brief snapshot of what those three applications offer:

  • Memorial Day – happening after spring flush slows initial growth and boosts stand productivity into summer
  • 4th of July – jump starts pastures for fall and winter stockpiling
  • Labor Day – extends the grazing season; allows energy reserves to be restored for winter and the following spring

If three applications do not make sense, because of time and/or budget, then transitioning to two treatments still works – Memorial Day & Labor Day.

Nutrient applications should be made based on production goals.

Take Note – Timing of Fertilizer Application is Important: 

  • Since many cool-season grasses grow vigorously in spring on their own, applying additional N can hurt overall competitiveness and thus impede growth of other components, notably legumes
  • Avoid applying N during extreme dry conditions, as leaf burn can occur

It doesn’t make sense to time fertilizer applications when large weather events are forecasted – fertilizer is lost to streams and waterways instead of getting to the target

About The Corner Post

The Corner Post is a periodic email series with timely forage tips from the agronomic experts at Forage First and La Crosse Seed. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, contact us here.

Preventing Grass Tetany in Spring

Preventing Grass Tetany in Spring
As we look forward to warmer temperatures, cool-season pastures become lush green and grow quickly. This growth can result in challenging conditions for grazing cattle, primarily lactating cattle. Grass tetany (or grass staggers) is a metabolic disorder caused by cattle foraging on high moisture, low nutrient (magnesium (Mg)) grasses. Animals with this disorder find it difficult to eat enough dry matter to meet their nutrient requirements. It generally affects older lactating cows but can also be an issue in dry or young cows and in rare cases, growing calves.Symptoms of Grass Tetany Include:

  • Nervousness
  • Staggering
  • Spasms
  • Convulsions
  • Overall lack of coordination

Further, this condition can lead to decreases in milk production and death. If grass tetany is suspected, a vet should be contacted quickly as treatment can save affected animals.

Timing & Species:
Grass tetany usually occurs when pastures are green and lush in spring, but can also occur in fall or winter, when cool-season grasses or small grains begin to grow quickly. Usual suspects are orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, timothy, tall fescue, bromegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, annual ryegrass, wheatgrass and small grains (wheat, oats, barley, triticale and rye). Another possible occurrence is cattle wintering on corn stover (or anything with low Mg levels). Elevated N and K levels usually increase risk of grass tetany by decreasing levels of Mg available.

Management Tips to Help Prevent Grass Tetany:

  • Add legumes. Increasing legume content of pastures with clover (or alfalfa) can offset low Mg due to higher Mg levels in these species.
  • Refrain from placing cattle in recently fertilized fields or where significant amounts of manure have been applied (higher N & K levels tie up Mg)
  • Test soil and forage. If low Mg levels are suspected, testing soil and/or forage can provide insight into possible problems.
  • Use high Mg supplement. Animals should be fed a high Mg supplement or free-choice mineral (containing 8-12% Mg). Mg may be added to a protein or liquid supplement, grain mix or silage.
  • Handle affected animals gently. Treatment of cows in early stages of grass tetany can be effective, but animals should be handled gently to produce the least amount of stress possible. Corralling or roping can cause stress that may lead to death.

Reference: University of Kentucky, 2014; Purdue University

I’d Like to Add Legumes to My Pasture
If you’re ready to add legumes to your pasture to help prevent grass tetany, or have other questions, please click the button above or contact us at 800.356.7333 or



Renovating High Traffic Areas in Pastures

Renovating High Traffic Areas in Pastures
From late fall to early spring, pastures can be beat up. High traffic areas (feeding areas, sacrifice lots, alleyways, watering areas) are often bare and muddy from early spring to early summer. To slow/reduce soil erosion, compaction, forage damage and weed problems, these areas should be renovated, but proper management is critical and often the difference between success and a muddy mess. Overall, animal health increases when muddy areas are reduced as well.

Recommended Options & Considerations
Annual (Italian) and perennial ryegrass are good options when renovating these areas – annual ryegrass as a short-term fix and perennial ryegrass as a residual or long-term solution. Each can increase overall quality of the pasture or hay field being renovated:

Italian ryegrass is best suited for spring plantings. They provide excellent forage potential with the added flexibility of not going to head in the seeding year.

Perennial ryegrass, like most cool-season grasses, may have a “summer slump” July – September (depending on region/climate). But with proper fertilization and grazing rotations, it can last several years. Use tetraploid ryegrass, which tends to be more upright with wide leaves and higher quality. A key advantage of ryegrass is palatability.

We also carry and recommend SucraSeed high sugar ryegrasses, with the attributes of ryegrass (quick germination, easy to establish) plus tolerance to summer heat and dry weather thanks to a higher level of carbohydrates and stored energy.

I’m Ready to Renovate my Pasture


Ryegrasses can be used for pasture, dry hay or silage, and establish quickly, so they work well when seeding windows are small and ground cover is critical. When harvested in the vegetative state, ryegrass is very high in digestibility (often referred to as “Queen of the Cool Season Grasses”). Because of higher nutritional values (namely protein), it can be used in dairy systems too.

Additional tips to ensure success:

  • Fertilizer and lime should be applied per soil test results. Split applications of N (40-50 lbs. actual/acre) can be especially beneficial.
  • Do not over-apply N when interseeding into existing grasses. Added N can lead to increased competition from established components in the field already.
  • Keep livestock and/or heavy traffic off newly seeded areas to allow for seedling establishment
  • Do not overgraze and allow for a rest and regrowth period before grazing again

    University of Kentucky, 2014