Feed forages a balanced diet

Written by David Moore on .

It’s the time of year when the “new” in new year really shows— newborn calves, blooming redbuds and fresh growth of green grass. Sure, we’ll keep some hay out until the cattle refuse it, but we can see light at the end of that tunnel we call winter. Now is the time to plan fertilizer applications so your herd will be rolling in grass this year.

I like to fertilize hay fields some­where in the last half of March or early April. For pasture ground, I think a bit differently. The good Lord gives us a bunch of grass in April and early May, so I like to hold off on fertilizing pastures until later in those months.

Chances are, you eat a fairly balanced diet. If you’re like me that might be meat, taters and a bit of dessert, washed down with a cup of good coffee or glass of tea. Your grass will certainly respond better with a balanced diet, too. Feeding forages with the right blend of plant nutrients results in palatable, nu­tritious feed for our livestock—and plenty of it! Think N, P, K and S.

Nitrogen (N) is that cup of coffee. It provides tremendous energy for the plant and helps build protein. Phosphorus (P) is the potatoes. Phosphorus is responsible for de­veloping and growing a good root system that can find water and nu­trients. Potassium (K) is the meat in the diet. Without ample potassium, forages can’t conserve water and may lose the ability to stand. Sulfur (S) is the dessert. This element just makes everything better. The major role of sulfur is building amino acids and proteins.

When you properly fertilize, you set your forages up for success. You can make that investment even more effective by controlling weeds in your hay fields and pastures. Adding herbicides such as DuraCor or GrazonNext HL to your fertil­izer application removes the weed competition, allowing all the plant nutrients and soil moisture to feed the forages that feed the cows.

My herbicide of choice is DuraCor. It’s stronger, has great residual activity and kills more weeds. This will help control many of the sum­mer annuals that steal water and fertilizer from your forages. Serious reduction in ragweed, nettle, thistle, cocklebur, perilla mint, buckhorn plantain, pigweed and many other undesirable plants allows for an abundance of good, clean grass.

An efficient and effective way to provide both nutrition and weed control to forages is through dry fertilizer impregnation (DFI). This process applies a concentrated herbicide solution on dry fertilizer during the blending process. The practice has steadily been gaining adoption throughout the state and has proven to be an effective way to pair fertility and weed control. The real advantage of this system is the herbicide’s residual control, which suppresses especially small or unemerged weeds. By allowing fertility and weed control to be applied simultaneously, DFI can be a tremendous cost and time savings during a busy time of year for many of MFA’s diversified growers.

MFA has jumped on the opportu­nity to provide customers with DFI services through several locations across our region. For availability, check with your local MFA facility.

Do keep in mind that impreg­nated fertilizer is designed to combat broadleaf weeds, not brush. Buckbrush, blackberries and tree sprouts are not well controlled with impregnated fertilizer. Also, please understand that impregnated fertil­izer works best to stop weeds that haven’t emerged. If you have lots of emerged weeds, spraying may be the better choice.

Producers should work with their key account manager and location employees to determine exactly what fertilizer blend and herbicides to apply. Ideally, those recommen­dations are based on a soil test and realistic yield goals for the upcom­ing growing season.

Many MFA locations have SuperU available. This premium nitrogen source is protected from all three forms of nitrogen loss—leaching, denitrification and volatility. The wet spring weather we have expe­rienced the past two or three years really takes a toll on nitrogen if it’s not protected. Chances of volatility increase as the temperature rises. You’ll sleep better at night if you use SuperU. I highly recommend it.

Well-fed, weed-free fields fare much better through hot, dry months. They are able to conserve water and continue producing quality feed far longer when the going gets tough. Cattle producers get paid on pounds of beef. Produc­ing more grass—and higher-quality grass—will lead to more pounds of beef per acre, per year.