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Skaggs: Pastures get a boost from recent rains
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The past few years have been incredibly stressful on our perennial forages. Prolonged and extreme drought in successive seasons, late spring freezes, uncontrolled weed problems — you name it, and we’ve seen it.

As a result, many of our forage stands have thinned considerably. It is common for bermuda-grass stands to have gone from a solid stand to less than a 50 percent stand just in the last year or so.

This problem is broadly called "bermudagrass decline." The reason this term is so broad is because this problem often is linked to several causes. Often several factors will occur simultaneously, so it is quite difficult to pinpoint what actually caused the problem. Two of the major factors leading to bermudagrass decline are low potassium fertility and low soil pH.

And while recent rains have perked up Georgia’s drought-parched pastures and hayfields, cattlemen, who scrambled to sustain their herds this summer, now are storing up for the lean winter months.

Georgia cattlemen, depending on their location in the state, like to start grazing their herds in April or May when pastures of bermudagrass, bahiagrass or fescue shake off the cold and begin to green up. They usually start cutting pastures in June to store as hay to feed cattle in winter when pastures are dormant. They cut about three to four times throughout the summer. However, drought like Georgia experienced this summer often means less than half of the normal hay crop.

In July, approximately one-half of Georgia’s pastures were rated in poor to very poor condition, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. And it only got worse in most places as the summer progressed.

Cattlemen had to dig deeper to pay for hay this summer, and unfortunately, this winter looks to be equally rough. The increased demand plus higher fertilizer costs caused by spikes in fuel prices all contributed to higher hay prices.

As tough as it may be, cattle producers should not skimp on feeding their cows. If they do, it could lead to thin cows and low pregnancy rates. Georgia cattlemen likely will plant more cold-tolerant forages like oats, rye, ryegrass and some wheat for cows to graze this winter.

In an effort to assist cattle producers with planting and management decisions, Hall County Cooperative, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Hall County Soil and Water Conservation District are hosting the Hall County Forage Field Day at 4 p.m. Oct. 27 at Larry Nix’s Big Oak Farm in the Belmont community.

The featured speaker at the Forage Field Day is Dr. Dennis Hancock, UGA forage agronomist. Hancock will conduct a pasture walk, evaluate hay samples of varying quality and provide attendees with the latest information on overseeding winter annual forages.

The event is free, and all interested farmers are invited to attend. Please RSVP to the Hall County Cooperative Extension office at 770-535-8293 by Wednesday.

Billy Skaggs is a Hall County extension agent. He can be reached at 770-531-6988. His column
appears biweekly and at