Renovate means to renew and improve. Let’s discuss managing a pasture or hay field that has become less productive and “renewing” it so that it will become more productive. Around here, this usually means adding lime and fertilizer, controlling weeds and insects, and planting a legume such as red clover. The primary benefits come as a result of getting legumes established in grass-dominated fields.

Adding legumes to hay fields brings at least four benefits:

(1) Higher yields – The total yield of forage per acre is increased. For example, a study conducted at UK in Lexington compared renovating a fescue pasture using red clover to fertilizing the grass with nitrogen. In the study, red clover growing with fescue produced higher yields than fescue fertilized with up to 180 lbs. N/acre.

(2) Improved quality – Adding legumes to grass fields improves forage quality over grass alone. This added quality includes increases in palatability, intake, digestibility, and nutrient content. The result is improved animal performance. Research has shown that legumes improve animal growth rates, reproductive efficiency, and milk production. There are studies that show improved growth rates of beef cows, calves, and steers when legumes are used. One study shows increased growth rates of beef steers grazing a fescue-ladino clover pasture. It also shows higher gains per acre as a result of improved forage quality and higher yields.

High quality feed is important in getting beef cows re-bred after calving. Research conducted in Illinois and Indiana compared conception rates of cows grazing tall fescue pastures with and without legumes. In both tests, the cows grazing legume-grass pastures had much higher conception rates.

(3) Nitrogen fixation – Legumes get their nitrogen needs from symbiotic bacteria that live in “knots” (nodules) on their roots. These bacteria are added when legume seed is inoculated. This “fixed” nitrogen provides the nitrogen needed by the legumes and also by grasses growing with them. Different legumes are able to “fix” different amounts of nitrogen. Alfalfa usually fixes the most, while annual lespedeza is on the low side with about 75 pounds. The value of the nitrogen fixed by legumes depends on the cost of nitrogen fertilizer.

(4) More summer growth – Most of the growth of cool-season grasses occurs during the spring and fall. Legumes make more growth during the summer months than cool-season grasses. Growing grasses and legumes together improves the seasonal distribution of forages and provides more growth during summer.

– How to Renovate

Follow these six important steps when renovating grass fields with legumes:

Step 1) Have the soil tested and apply the needed lime and fertilizer. Legumes need a higher soil pH and fertility level than grasses. However, do not use nitrogen. Added nitrogen stimulates grasses, which increase competition with the legumes.

Step 2) Reduce the vegetative cover on the soil. This is best done by heavy grazing in late fall and early winter. Removing the excess grass cover will make it easier to get the legume seed in contact with the soil.

Step 3) Select the legumes to be used. This will depend on the soil and the planned use of the forage. For hay, alfalfa or red clover is usually best. For both hay and grazing, a combination of red clover and ladino clover works well. Ladino, red clover, and/or annual lespedeza work well in pastures.

Step 4) Use the right kind and amount of seed. Select varieties that perform well in our area. The only way to be sure of what you’re planting is to use certified seed. Also be sure to use the right kind of high quality inoculant mixed with the seed just before planting. Use a sticking agent to be sure that the inoculant sticks to the seed. Some seed may be available pre-inoculated.

Step 5) Plant the seed so that it makes good contact with the soil. There are several ways to do this. One of the best ways for most farmers is to use a disk, field cultivator, or field tiller. Disturb 40 to 60 percent of the sod for planting clovers. For alfalfa seeding, almost all of the sod should be torn up (loosened from the soil). Tillage helps control the grass growth and exposes the soil so the legumes have a better chance to germinate and grow. Broadcast the seed and pack the soil with a corrugated roller.

Another method is to use a no-till renovation seeder. These do a good job of placing the seed in the soil, but the don’t reduce the competition from the grass.

A simple, but effective method is to broadcast the legume seed on the soil surface in late winter (Feb. 15 to March 15). As the soil freezes and thaws, the seeds become covered. This method does not work well with alfalfa.

Herbicides can be used to kill or suppress some of the grass and help control competition. Follow the label directions for rates and grazing restrictions when herbicides are used.

Step 6) Control grass and weed competition. This step is one of the most critical ones. Many attempts at renovation have failed simply because the grass was allowed to grow and reduce the light, nutrients, and water available to the young legume plants. The grass must be kept short by grazing or mowing until the new legume plants are 3 to 4 inches tall. Stop grazing if the animals begin biting off the young legume leaves. Grazing and mowing should be stopped for several weeks to allow the legumes to become well established. After this, the field should be mowed or grazed on a schedule that will help keep the particular legumes used in good condition. A rotational grazing system helps keep legumes in the stand longer.

– Managing Renovated Fields

Once legumes have been established in grass fields, maintaining them is important. To do so, the following management factors need to be taken care of:

* Follow an annual fertility program based on soil test recommendations to be sure phosphorus and potassium are available. Take a soil sample at least every third year to be sure enough fertilizer is being used and to see if more lime is needed. Again, to avoid too much competition from the grass, do not use any nitrogen as long as you want to keep legumes in the field.

* Mow pastures as needed to remove grass seed heads and control weeds and woody vegetation.

* Harvest hay or manage grazing to favor the legume being used. Grass-clover pastures may be grazed all season, but take care to avoid overgrazing. Leave 2 or 3 inches of top growth at all times. A good rotation plan helps. When annual lespedeza is used, pastures should be grazed heavily in April and May to control the grass and give the lespedeza a chance to get started. It should be given a rest then, until the lespedeza is 5 to 8 inches tall before grazing again.

Alfalfa-grass fields can be grazed successfully, but a good rotation system must be used. A good plan is to use enough livestock to graze it down in 7 to 10 days. Then give it 4 or 5 weeks to re-grow before repeating the cycle.

– Identification Requirements for Sheep and Goats

The numbers of sheep and goats on Kentucky farms have been steadily increasing over the past few years. In 2005, the first estimate of Kentucky’s total goat population was recorded at 70,000 head. With the rise in these animal populations, identification is becoming more important, especially in light of diseases such as scrapie.

The Kentucky state veterinarian’s office recently released information regarding the requirement of scrapie tag identification for all classes of sheep and goats entering into public or private commerce.

In other words, all sheep and goats of any classification need to be identified by a scrapie tag each and every time they change hands, regardless of the purpose of the transaction, according to Terry Hutchens, University of Kentucky Extension associate for goat management.

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. It is among a number of diseases classified as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Infected flocks that contain a high percentage of susceptible animals can experience significant production losses. Over a period of several years the number of infected animals increases, and the age at onset of clinical signs decreases, making these flocks economically unviable.

Animals sold form infected flocks spread scrapie to other flocks. The presence of scrapie in the United States also prevents the export of breeding stock, semen and embryos to many other countries.

Goats have a low risk of contracting or carrying the scrapie virus, but they would be considered at risk if they have direct contact with sheep or other animals know to be carrying the virus.

There is no evidence that scrapie or sheep and goats is transmitted to humans.

If producers want to avoid expensive complications associated with marketing goats and sheep in Kentucky, Hutchens recommends they sign up for the U.S. Dept of Agriculture’s Scrapie Eradication Program. To do so, producers are required to obtain a Premise ID and then complete a scrapie tag order form.

Each farm will receive up to 200 scrapie tags and a tagger free of charge. Both forms are available at county Extension offices.

He said this program is a less costly alternative to electronic identification and still offers an excellent method of tracing animals.

The requirement will go into effect on July 1. If a producer enters a stockyard with untagged livestock, they will likely be charged $2 to $3 per head for tags.

– Alfalfa Conference

The 26th Ky. Alfalfa Conference moves to Lexington this year with topics for producers who grow the crop to feed their livestock as well as for commercial hay producers.

The daylong program is Feb. 23 at the Faye County office of the University of Ky. Cooperative Extension Service. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the conference gets under way at 8:45 a.m.

The conference, generally held in Cave City, was moved to Lexington this year to accommodate growers in that area of the state and because the Heart of America Grazing Conference was at the Cave City site this year.

Topics include selecting alfalfa varieties for yield; quality and persistence; advances in alfalfa seed coating; successful establishment principles and practices; fertilizing for profit; alfalfa as a grazing crop; storing alfalfa as round bale silage; moisture management in hay making and storing; and interpreting forage quality testing.

After lunch the focus will be on marketing Kentucky alfalfa with a discussion on why top producers are successful. A panel discussion on whether Kentucky alfalfa can compete in the marketplace will follow.

Registration fee is $15 or $5 for students and includes lunch and a copy of conference proceedings. Certified crop adviser credits are available.

The conference is sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, UK Cooperative Extension Service and the Kentucky Forage and Grasslands Council.

– Private Pesticide Certification Training

Producers, who need to be certified as Private Pesticide Applicators, will have a training session on Monday afternoon, Feb. 20, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Barren County Extension Office. As always, be at the training before the start time. The training program lasts about two hours and application for certification follows the training.

– June Dairy Celebration

This is a last reminder for those willing to serve on the 2006 June Dairy Celebration Committee.

The committee meets Monday, Feb. 20, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Barren County Extension Office.

I look forward to working with the committee this year.


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