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Selecting the right forage for an operation explained by agronomist

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“There are many producers who grow their own forage for their cattle operations,” shares Arrow Seed Company Agronomist Rich Russell during a webinar series hosted by Ward Laboratory. “Selecting the correct forage for an operation is an important decision.” 

Understanding forage varieties 

Many varieties of forage exist, and each variety has its own benefits. 

“Alfalfa is the most economical way to grow reliable forage,” Russell shares. “Alfalfa can be seeded in the spring or in the fall to aid with winter survival.”  

Russell adds many varieties of alfalfa are available to producers. 

“Double-stack Roundup Ready with low-lignin alfalfa can extend the harvest window up to seven days,” continues Russell. “It will also maintain the same quality as conventional alfalfa at 10 percent bloom.” 

He shares, second generation Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa is traffic tested through specific programs to ensure it offers high yielding, good variety yielding and four to five yearly cuttings of weed-free alfalfa. 

“Forage yielding excellent quality with solid pest resistance protection in a wide range of growing conditions provides fast recovery after cutting and high multifoliate expressions,” Russell states. 

Additionally, he shares conventional varieties of alfalfa have increased tonnage, improved disease resistance, quick regrowth and excellent persistence. Conventional alfalfa varieties also have unique tolerance to pH and wet soil conditions. 

Conventional varieties have the best combination of tonnage and digestibility on the market, according to Russell. More production per acre means producers can take advantage of the high value which conventional varieties provide for cow/calf and dairy producers. 

“Conventional alfalfa varieties also go through traffic and grazing tests,” he explains. “An alfalfa and orchardgrass mix combines the protein advantage from alfalfa varieties with the benefits of high-quality grass.” 

This mix is often desirable for many cattle, Russell shares. Additionally, he adds teff grass can be good for weaning calves.  

“Teff grass is a great option because calves often prefer it to other forage,” he explains. “Teff grass is very palatable and often calves flock to it.”  

Grazing green forages 

When considering purchasing seed producers should also consider which forages have the potential to become problematic for producers in green up. 

“One large issue producers can run into when transitioning cattle from winter feed to green forages is bloat,” shares Russell. 

He notes, producers can prevent bloat by offering mineral and lick tubs before turning cowherds out on green grasses.  

Additionally, producers can also run into issues with sulfur toxicity when grazing green forages. According to Russell, large amounts of hydrogen sulfide cause negative effects of excess dietary sulfur, including decreased cattle growth, reduced copper, diarrhea, muscular twitching and a potentially fatal neurologic disease of ruminants as a result of sulfur toxicity. 

Grass tetany, a metabolic disorder associated with grazing of lush, growing green grasses, can also raise concerns for producers. 

Madi Slaymaker is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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