Noble Foundation: Did ryegrass for drought affect pastures?

While consulting with cattle producers in north Texas, Matt Mattox, Pasture and Range Specialist with The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, noticed most pastures affected by the past two years of drought were bermudagrass.

Though recent rainfall has improved some bermuda pastures, others may be too sparse to recover before first frost. So, for producers who have yet to plant small grains for grazing, Mattox recommends ryegrass as an overseeded annual on bermudagrass pastures.

“Producers usually think of ryegrass as complementary forage that can extend small-grain pastures for stockers or as forage for a fall-calving cow herd,” he said. “However, there is currently a good price for ryegrass seed and limited availability of small-grain seed, so ryegrass could be useful to bring back bermudagrass pastures next year.”

Mattox said it is not too late to overseed with ryegrass this fall, since the fading bermudagrass will not hinder ryegrass germination. He recommended overseeding only pastures that are less vigorous or have been declining the past few years.

“If all of your bermudagrass pastures have recovered with the recent rainfall, you should not plant ryegrass,” he said.

The use of ryegrass will allow farmers to save bermudagrass pastures that are recoverable for grazing until they can accumulate ample forage through the first 30 to 45 days of next year.

“Unless we have a mild fall and winter, most of the ryegrass production will be in the spring; therefore, it is likely you will have to spread the cattle out on the ryegrass this winter,” Mattox said. “Plan on overseeding with at least 20 pounds of annual ryegrass seed, and do not begin grazing until you cannot pull the grass out by the roots or until you have at least 5 to 6 inches of growth.”

In the spring, Mattox advises regrouping cattle into one herd and rotating to a fresh pasture whenever the ryegrass averages 4 to 5 inches tall. Delay grazing bermudagrass pastures that aren’t overseeded until there are at least two pastures in front of the cattle with an average of 4 inches of accumulated growth.

“If they don’t have enough ryegrass, this may mean farmers have to dry-lot cattle with hay and/or by-product feeds such as soybean hulls,” he said. “This scenario will not provide the best ryegrass re-seeding potential. However, the reason for the ryegrass in this situation is to allow recoverable bermudagrass pastures to regain vigor before grazing again next year.”

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