Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on April 30, 2004. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Rains, warm temperatures kick off livestock forages
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Recent rains and warmer temperatures caused explosive growth of summer grasses in Mississippi's pastures and hay fields, but producers have faced an unrelenting battle with weeds throughout the spring.
John Byrd, weed scientist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the best time to treat weeds is before they have the opportunity to bloom and produce seeds. Producers should follow label directions regarding grazing and haying restrictions.
Yellow fields of buttercups are among the most visible weeds in Mississippi every April.
"Buttercup is always bad in the spring, but it begins to play out in early May. Producers can control buttercup with less chemicals before it blooms," Byrd said. "If they hit it with 2, 4-D before it starts blooming, they can reduce the likelihood of viable seed production. Bush-hogging will help reduce seed production on some weeds, but if you don't treat some of the perennials chemically, they will return next year."
Byrd said the downside of chemical treatments is the removal of any clover that is also in the pastures. Clovers have nutritional value for the animals and the soil.
Richard Watson, assistant Extension forages professor, said if producers keep a strong stand of summer grasses and clover, they can reduce annual weed problems.
"Buttercup, like many weeds, is a very opportunistic plant. It is easy to control with light applications of 2, 4-D at just a dollar or two per acre," Watson said.
The drier-than-normal spring caused ryegrass growth and hay production to be slower than normal. Late April showers gave summer grasses the much-needed boost for pastures and the first hay cuttings.
"Overall, grasses are still behind on water. Producers will need to think about making quality hay early in the season in case this is a drier year. There wasn't much quality hay to carry over from 2003," Watson said. "Be careful that quality of ryegrass hay is not reduced by too much reproductive growth. The first cutting of summer grasses is usually the best quality. This time of year, you usually have to battle rains during harvest, but it looks like that won't be the problem this year."
Watson warned hay producers not be too concerned with yield by letting grasses grow taller, but instead work on quality.
"Quality is really what will pay dividends in the end," he said.
Mike Howell, Extension area livestock agent in Northeast Mississippi, said pasture weed control will be more important this year to prevent unwanted plants from taking up expensive fertilizers.
"With fertilizer prices so high, I expect producers to be very conservative with applications this year," Howell said. "More and more producers are taking a closer look at establishing clovers in their summer pastures to offset high nitrogen prices."
Howell said most pastures and fields in his area have had more moisture than those in South Mississippi. Timely rains remain important for plant growth.