UGA Forage Extension Team

Scratching Your Spring Fever Itch

Should I start grazing my permanent pastures now? Care needs to be taken to avoid turning out too early. Grazing fescue before it has at least a good amount of growth (8”) will cost you 25-50% or more of your spring yield potential. Hammering bermudagrass just as it is waking up will also cost you 20-40%+ of its yield potential. Given the duration of last year’s drought and the mild winter, my guess is that we will be on the higher end of that range. At a certain level, feeding hay now (if you can find it… I KNOW) may save grazing days/stocking rate later or even feeding a lot more hay later (especially if the dry spring that is forecast comes true). Just preaching caution.
Should I plant ryegrass to try to get some grass? It is very unlikely to be economical. If one counts what they have in it and considers they are probably won’t even get 1 ton/acre out of it (likely to get less than 0.5 tons/acre), the cost is likely to exceed $150/ton of dry feed. Hay or hay replacement rations can be developed for that price.
Should I plant tall fescue into thin stands of fescue now? I do not recommend this at this time of the year. We don’t have a good forecast of rain for the next 2-3 months. One might get lucky and it gets a foothold. But, this is incredibly unlikely. This is good money after bad.
Should I fertilize bermudagrass now? It is still VERY early. Bermudagrass’s response to N right now is likely to be less than 10-15 lbs of DM/acre per lb of N applied, which is below or barely breakeven from an economics perspective.  Plus, too much N now could induce more rapid dormancy break and make the plant less hardy if we get a late freeze. Does anybody remember the 2007 Easter freeze? We lost significant acreage of bermudagrass stands due to putting out N too early and getting 2-3 nights in mid-April below 20 F. This weather then was very similar to this year. It is just weird enough to give us that sort of crazy jolt.
Should I plant pearl millet now? No. Soil temps at a 2” depth have to be above 65 F and stay above 65 F. Yes, soil temps hit 65 F at 2” in some areas this week. BUT, about 6 weeks ago in January they hit that same threshold in Tifton, too! It was crazy risky to plant pearl millet then and it is risky to plant it now. I’m not saying it won’t work. I’m saying it is risky! Keep in mind, pearl millet seeds monitor the weather AND the calendar (or, as they know it, daylength). Don’t plant before there are 12 hrs and 20 minutes of day length (Mar. 25). April 1st is a good rule of thumb for earliest plantings. By the way, this applies to sorghum x sudan and sudangrass, too.
If you’ve got to do something…  scout and spray for weeds or stick a soil probe in the ground. After the drought and this wacky winter weather, weeds are gonna eat our lunch this spring if we aren’t careful. A LOT of hay was imported this winter. I’m not saying that hay was completely full of weed seeds, but one can only imagine the problems that were brought in via those bales. Plus, good soil fertility this spring will be crucial to getting the pastures and hayfields off to a good competitive start.
Dr. Dennis Hancock
Assoc. Professor and State Forage Extension Specialist
UGA Extension