With today’s Forage Focus, I’m Nebraska Extension’s Ben Beckman.

As humans, we often like to try and compare things to average or normal.   Was the precipitation received within the expected normal range?  Were temperatures for a particular season outside of normal? Was our pasture or hay production in the range we consider normal?

Taking this time to look back on last year is beneficial, but resist the temptation to compare things to normal.  Very rarely, do things in the ever-changing world of agriculture really meet average or normal. 

Depending on where you live in Nebraska, 2021 may have been too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet.  Nature is never static.  If it were, our job as producers would be much easier.  As it is, we lay out our plans then inevitably have to adapt as Mother Nature throws one curveball after another our way. 

Some of you may have planted a winter annual forage to graze this spring. If so, manage grazing so there is not the temptation to begin grazing perennial grass pastures too early this spring.  This will help give them some additional rest and early forage production. You might also consider frost-seeding legumes, such as red clover, in February through mid-March to boost the yield and improve the quality without adding additional nitrogen fertilizer.

Those who are grazing rye have a real opportunity for early grazing.  Rye can mature quickly once growth initiates, although there is always the possibility for cool spring weather to slow growth and leave us with too little forage or make fields muddy to the point where grazing is not advisable.  Even so, getting ahead of grazing is preferable to falling behind.  If cool or wet weather comes, have a place to pull animals off of grazing and feed them or onto perennial pasture where damage is minimal.  You’d be feeding or grazing in these areas anyway if they weren’t on the rye.  As soon as conditions return to normal, let them back out.  This can help keep you ahead of the spring grazing cure.

When did your pastures run out? Was it mid-summer? late-summer? or fall? Remember that you have plenty of annual forage options to fill any gaps –there are few common ones that can be very productive. Forages like sudangrass and pearl millet can be planted from June until September and used to fill summer and fall forage gaps. Oats and turnip mixtures can be planted as early as mid-August and used to fill late-fall forage gaps. Plant and use these annual forages when your other pastures have slow growth and are stressed so you have plenty of grazing for your cattle. Your regular pastures will bounce back quicker as well.

Several of you may have taken an extra cutting of alfalfa late in the fall because of excellent September and October growth. That hay was high quality, so it should be sold for a premium price or used for special feeding situations. This coming spring, though, it may start to grow a little slower. If so, let it begin to bloom before cutting.

Producers work in a dynamic system that seldom repeats itself.  In doing so, we learn to be adaptive, to build resilience into our production and planning, and try to spread our eggs out amongst several different baskets.  When you take time to look back on the challenges and successes of this past year, try to see where adapting to a problem worked or how a bit more flexibility next year could keep an issue from arising.  Leave the normal and average comparisons out.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce.  He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington.  You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: ben.beckman@unl.edu .