Cool-Season Forage Pointers

February 21, 2024

Reid Miller
Livestock & Forages Agent
Greenwood, Laurens, & McCormick Counties

Pasture, picture taken January 2, 2024
Date taken: 1/2/24

While it is commonplace for producers in the upstate region of South Carolina to grow fescue as their primary forage crop, many producers utilize cool-season annuals to help get them through the winter. Cool season annuals are great for sodseeding into warm-season perennials like bermudagrass and for decreasing dependency on feeding hay. Cool-season annuals include a variety of small grains, ryegrasses, legumes, and some brassicas. In ideal conditions (adequate rainfall and extreme heat is gone), planting can begin in late September to early October. The earlier the planting the better your chances of being able to graze in the fall and early winter. Of course, the transition from summer to fall in this state can oftentimes be unpredictable with lingering heat and drought conditions. In the case of a late planting in early December, you may provide enough forage to carry cattle from spring to summer. Be sure to let forage grow to at least 6” in height before grazing, and do not graze below 2-3” in height. These parameters will allow the forage to develop a root system to promote drought tolerance and to sustain itself over the long term. The month of February is a great time to apply a second round of fertilizer regardless of whether you’re growing fescue or cool-season annuals. Remember to refer to your soil sample results when applying fertilizer. This is also a good time to evaluate the condition of your forage after the heavy frost events we received within the last month. The extent of the damage may determine whether it is worth fertilizing (regrowth must occur to justify fertilizer), replanting heavily damaged areas, or feeding hay until warm season grasses take over. To help our local clients gain some perspective on how cool-season annuals perform, we have a variety trial in place in Ninety-Six, South Carolina. We planted twenty-five different varieties including oats, wheat, ryegrasses, clovers, and other specialty forages. We hope to present the trial in the coming months if all goes well. Contact your local Clemson Extension office for more information.


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