January 14, 2004

Kentucky is fortunate to have more than 7 million acres of forages. These forages are the main reason the Commonwealth ranks first in cattle production among states east of the Mississippi River. 

As tobacco production continues to decline, many farmers are turning to cattle and goat production as alternatives to offset income lost from tobacco.

“Livestock production is a good fit for Kentucky because we are so blessed with forages,” said Greg Schwab, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension soil management specialist. “Historically we have a surplus of forages here, especially in the spring, so forages have not been intensively managed for top production.”

Times are changing though, and farmers are seeking ways to make the most of their forage acreage. They are asking how they can improve their pasture and hay lands so they can have a higher per acre stocking rate. Schwab said farmers can take steps to dramatically increase total forage production.

“If you do a few simple things, you may actually double your forage production,” he said. “First ask yourself if you are effectively using the forages you currently produce. If the answer is no, you should begin trying to make better use of what you already produce.”

Some examples include increasing stocking rates, implementing rotational grazing or more timely hay harvesting.

“If on the other hand, you are effectively using all that you grow, you should concentrate on maximizing per acre production,” Schwab said. 

The soil is the foundation of high quality forage production. Without adequate nutrients, Schwab said other intensive management practices are destined to fail. One of the best things producers can do is test their soil to determine the pH and nutrient availability.

“Soil sampling is easy and it can be done anytime that the ground is not frozen,” he said. “The cost is less than $8 per sample and the results will tell you exactly what nutrients and/or lime the soil needs and how much to apply.”

Applying nitrogen usually is the easiest way to get bigger returns on pastures, however the price of nitrogen has almost doubled in the past few years. Schwab said the best way to avoid the high costs of applying extra nitrogen is to over-seed red clover in pastures and hay fields in the spring.

“Red clover will last about three years and since it’s a legume, it will supply all the nitrogen needed by the grasses in the stand,” he added. “It’s important to select a high-yielding variety and use certified seed. Clover will not only provide the required nitrogen; it will also improve the feed value of the forage and reduce the effects of fescue toxicity.”

Schwab said there are many other ways to improve forage production. To find out more about soil testing, improving forage yields, or over-seeding clover this spring, contact your local Cooperative Extension office.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Source: Greg Schwab 859-257-9780