While fescue often becomes the dominant forage for Southeast Kansas and Southwest Missouri farms, trials performed by the Cherokee County Kansas Research and Extension highlight the high points of straying from normal options.

Kansas State University Extension agent Dale Helwig presented his findings at Cherokee County’s Beef Night, the most impactful discovery being that fertility had a bigger overall impact than forage variety.

“One of the most important results of this trial was centered on how fertility affected the overall production of the forage and more importantly the impact it had on the quality of forage the cattle were eating,” Helwig said.

Cherokee County Crabgrass Trials

The Cherokee County crabgrass trials focused on two varieties, comparing Quick-n-Big to Mojo, an Oklahoma developed variety. The trials focused on fertility and harvest timings impact on production, as well as overall variety performance.

In the study, the control group had no fertility and no cutting. The same field was divided into two between Mojo, Quick-n-Big with five treatment groups covering a wide variety of fertility and cutting timings.

Overall, the field was sampled every 35 to 40 days to collect data and evaluate performance.

“We drilled this pretty shallow,” Helwig said. “With crabgrass you only want to plant it at about a quarter of an inch deep.”

The timing of the trial was difficult, with rain conditions providing a challenging environment for any type of forage growth.

“We planted on May 21 and as we were pulling our equipment home it started to rain,” Helwig said. “We got nearly three inches of rain over the next four days and we thought it might be a bust but the grass still came up.”

After the initial rain, drought conditions set in, lasting 61 days with only 1.6 inches of rain. As a baseline, most of the trial groups were given fertility at the beginning of the growing season, coinciding with planting. “

The field only got one fertilizer application and that was right at the beginning of the season when we planted it,” Helwig said. “Kind of like you guys may fertilize your pastures once at the beginning of the summer and never look at them again — that's how we treated this section of the trial.”

For the test with just one fertilizer application at planting, the test cutting found 2,300 pound of forage per acre with Mojo, 1,800 with Quick-n-Big.

“So right off the bat the Mojo out performed the Quick-n-big,” Helwig said. “I will say that in the Mojo we had a lot of foxtail in this cutting and the Quick-n-Big was much cleaner.”

Helwig said most of the foxtail found in the cuttings was due to the location in the field itself, rather than the crabgrass variety.

In addition to increased dry matter, the trial areas with added fertility showed an increase in crude protein, with a bum of 1.5% in the fertilized areas. Crude protein values were taken well past maturity, and the protein content held between 7 and 8%. After a late cutting, the crabgrass trial tested another important factor — crabgrass regrowth.

“Regrowth is where the Mojo definitely outperformed the Quick-n-Big, and the fact that whenever we harvested it, the Mojo recovered quickly,” Helwig said. “With no fertility the regrowth on the Mojo was over 1,500 pounds of forage and the Quick-n-Big was didn’t even have 500.”

Overall, Helwig said the most important factor to him was the impact of fertility on the grazing longevity of the forage.

“In treatment one — which was free growth all season with no added fertility — by the time we got to October, the protein value of the forage was 4%,” Helwig said. “You might as well be feeding straw at that point.”

In applications with fertilizer, Helwig said the fields maintained crude protein percentages that would carry cattle well into the fall.

“We had about 170 pounds of crude protein produced with no fertility and no harvest, just free growth,” Helwig said. “In the treatment where we harvested it then re-fertilized and harvested again, we produced well over 600 pounds of crude protein per acre.”

Overall, Helwig said he had been expecting one variety to outperform another, but was pleasantly surprised by the production of both. The trials will continue to monitor the varieties and their re-growth over the coming growing season.

Bermudagrass trial

In conjunction with the crabgrass trial, Cherokee County Extension performed a Bermudagrass trial with similar results. The trial focused solely on fertility and cutting timing, without measuring multiple varieties against one another.

“Our first cutting had 1,300 pounds of dry matter per acre in the control and 2,500 pounds in the group with fertility,” Helwig said. “We gained 1200 pounds of forage per acre, by putting fertilizer out there.”

Similarly to the crabgrass trials, Helwig said fertility played a vital role in the overall quality of the forage produced.

“Crude protein is nothing more than the measurement of nitrogen in the plant,” Helwig said. “So where we have nitrogen, we had higher protein values of around 10% versus 8% for the control.”

In both trials, timing and fertility had a critical role in the production of quality forage and the pasture’s overall ability to sustain livestock for an extended period of time.

“Timely cutting plus fertility will definitely increase production and quality more than anything,” Helwig said. 

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