Farmers and ranchers are happiest when it’s raining. Then again, if they need to plant, till, feed, spray or fertilize, they are happiest when it’s not.

OK, so farmers and ranchers cannot be pleased with any weather. This is not normally a problem in states like Illinois and Iowa where it generally rains when it’s supposed to. Not the case in Oklahoma. Our weather changes its mind as much as celebrities change spouses.

2011 and 2012 were historic for central Oklahoma, and now 2013 has been as well. Memorable rainfall, flooding and violent tornadoes have been front page news. And we are wet in Cleveland County. These conditions have allowed ag producers to do more than the last two years combined in some cases. This will allow cattle producers to move into the winter months with excellent forage availability. This is especially true for producers who have rotated livestock, maintained excellent soil fertility and kept stocking rates low during the last two years.

Harvested forage costs are a large part of the production costs associated with cow-calf enterprises. For the first time in two years, producers in the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma will have enough Bermuda grass to consider stockpiling some for winter feed. An Oklahoma State University trial had the objective to economically evaluate stockpiled Bermuda grass. The research found that this practice can reduce cow-wintering costs.

Forage accumulation during the late summer and fall is variable from year to year depending on moisture, temperatures, date of first frost and fertility. This strategy requires that an alternative pasture must be available for cattle to graze from late August to Nov. 1.

OSU research has found that 50 to 100 pounds per acre of actual nitrogen fertilizer applied in the late summer has produced 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of forage per acre. In some ideal situations, even more forage has been produced.

Studies between 1997 and 2000 found stockpiled Bermuda grass protein concentrations were quite impressive, even after frost. In November, the range of protein content of the standing forage was 13.1 to 15.2 percent. The protein held up in December and ranged from 12.5 to 14.7 percent and declined to 10.9 to 11.6 percent in January.

To make best use of the forage, supplementation with two pounds of 14 to 25 percent protein feed beginning in early December is recommended. Read about these studies in the 2001 OSU Animal Science Research Report. Some information about the forage quality is reported in the 1999 OSU Animal Science Research Report. The following is a list of recommendations for stockpiling Bermuda grass pastures for best results and reducing winter feed bills:

1. Remove existing forage by haying, clipping or grazing by late August.

2. Apply 50 to 100 pounds of actual nitrogen fertilizer per acre.

3. Defer grazing until at least late October or early November.

4. Control access to forage by rotational or strip grazing to cut waste and extend grazing.

5. If cool season forage is available for use in the winter, use the stockpiled Bermuda grass first.

6. Supplementation (two pounds of 14 to 25 percent protein) should begin in early December.

7. Provide free-choice mineral (6 to 9 percent phosphorus and Vitamin A) with a trace-mineral package.

Heath Herje is an agriculture educator with Cleveland County Cooperative Extension service.

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