Improving Forage Quality, Herd Performance

Better forage supports better herd performance

Producing more desirable grass improves cattle performance, increases revenue per acre and supports long-term return on investment. This issue focuses on strategic weed control as one key to effective pasture management.

In this issue:

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Support Herd Performance, Profit Potential With Improved Forage Quality

Severe drought, high fertilizer prices, fluctuating livestock prices and difficult economic times have made producers even more aware of how the production choices they make affect the bottom line. This economic pressure has led more pasture managers to examine the benefits of improving the quality of forage on every acre. Whether grazing those acres or producing hay for winter feeding or sale, producing quality forage can have a major impact on herd performance and return.

“By generating the type of forage needed to meet a herd’s nutritional requirements, producers not only protect animal health, but also reduce or eliminate the cost of purchasing alternate feed sources, which can add up quickly,” says Vanessa Corriher, assistant professor and extension forage specialist, AgriLife Extension Service, Overton, Texas. “While improving forage production is an investment, it’s a better alternative than having to invest in additional food sources or allowing animal health to decline.”

Gauging Forage Condition

To determine whether a forage stand should be improved, Corriher recommends starting with a visual assessment. “Do you see more weeds than consumable grass?” she asks. “If weeds have the upper hand, you probably have lower-quality forage, since the desirable grass is competing with weeds for nutrients and moisture. Also check for signs of plant disease, which can cause forage quality to decline.

“When animals graze, the food choices they make is another forage quality indicator. They naturally tend to choose the highest quality forage available. When they would rather eat the hay you put out than grass growing in the pasture, it's a sign forage quality is low.”

Body condition is another way to measure forage quality. “If you see changes like weight loss or deteriorated body condition, it’s a sign of poor nutrition,” Corriher notes. “Unfortunately, at that point it requires a great effort to help those animals recover.”

Tips for Improving Forage Quality

To help ensure you're getting top forage production, Corriher provides four key steps:

1. Test your soil. Use regular soil tests to identify which nutrients are available and to check soil pH. Many areas in Texas and the Southeast, for example, have acidic soils that can impact a forage crop’s ability to become established, grow and persist. “Unless you do a soil analysis, you don’t know which nutrients are needed.”
2. Replace deficient nutrients. Your soil analysis results should include nutrient recommendations for your soil type. Fertilize accordingly to replace missing nutrients. “Depending on your location, some alternate nutrient sources may be available at less cost than commercial fertilizer, such as poultry litter or dairy, beef or other animal manures.”
3. Control weeds. If weeds are dominant, they will try to outcompete desirable grasses for existing and added nutrients and moisture. “Applying a targeted herbicide is much more effective than mowing long-term and can actually be cheaper.” (See related article below.)
4. Manage grazing. Active grazing management is needed to ensure you’re not overstocking the forage area. Allowing animals to graze too long gives weeds the advantage and makes it difficult for grass to recover. “While a number of grazing strategies can be used, they all are geared toward properly matching the number of grazing animals to the amount of available forage.”

Research Demonstrates Benefits of Effective Weed Control

Controlling weeds in pasture and rangeland is an important part of making those acres more productive. If left untreated, weeds compete with desirable grasses for moisture, nutrients and sunlight, quickly destroying forage quality.

In the graph below, results from trials conducted in Cheyenne, Wyo., show significant grass yield increases when weeds were controlled with DuPont™ Cimarron® X-tra herbicide compared to untreated acres. In the first year of the trial, when rainfall was limited, land treated with Cimarron® X-tra produced 57 percent more grass than untreated acres. With more rainfall the second year, Cimarron® X-tra-treated land produced 69 percent more grass than untreated land.


DuPont™ Pastora® herbicide is now available to help cattle producers and commercial hay producers control problem grasses, such as field sandbur and johnsongrass, in bermudagrass pastures and hay meadows. Pastora® also delivers long-lasting postemergence control of broadleaf weeds, including common broomweed, buttercup and musk thistle, with no grazing restrictions. In field trials, Pastora® controlled more than 25 grass weeds and 100 broadleaf weeds for visibly cleaner bermudagrass fields.

During research trials conducted by Vanessa Corriher, AgriLife Extension Service, Overton, Texas, complete sandbur control was achieved 28 days after Pastora® was applied to sandbur less than 2 inches tall.
“When used at the appropriate rate and timing, Pastora® provided unprecedented control of sandbur,” Corriher explains. “Applying Pastora® early, while sandbur is approximately 1.5 inches tall and bermudagrass has 2 inches or less of new growth, is critical to achieving complete sandbur control.

“We also were impressed by how gentle Pastora® was on bermudagrass. Although the bermudagrass stand in our trial was in poor condition due to drought and extreme sandbur encroachment, the sandbur was completely gone on Day 28 of the trial with no signs of herbicide burn on the bermudagrass.”

While Corriher’s trial focused on sandbur control, evaluators also noted effective control of a variety of other grass and broadleaf weeds, including johnsongrass, woolly croton, clover and more.

For more information on weeds controlled, application rates and timing, see the Pastora® label. Always read and follow label directions for use.


Quality-Robbing Field Sandbur

Field sandbur is a harmful annual grass that can take over bermudagrass pastures and hayfields if left untreated. Producing numerous sharp, spiny burs that cling to animals and people, field sandbur can also injure the mouths of animals and deter animals from grazing. Sandbur populations can quickly alter the quality of bermudagrass hay, making it difficult to sell at a premium price.

Field sandbur begins to germinate in the spring, continuing to develop and grow through early fall, until the first hard freeze. As it spreads, field sandbur competes with bermudagrass for moisture and nutrients.
Producers have had few options for dependable postemergence control of field sandbur in bermudagrass. But now DuPont™ Pastora® herbicide offers effective postemergence control of tough grasses such as sandbur with good bermudagrass tolerance and no grazing restrictions.

The information provided on this website is for reference only. Always refer to the product labels for complete details and directions for use.