PRAIRIE CREEK SEED Solid Solutions to Summer Challenges
For 51-year-old Karl Dallefeld, of rural Worthington, Iowa, his passion has always revolved around farming and cattle. “I grew up on a farm in Illinois, and it seems like I have been around or working cattle all of my life.
”He’s been in the seed business for over 28 years, working with some of the most reputable seed and fertilizer companies in the Midwest. So, when the opportunity five years ago to start Prairie Creek Seed (www.prairiecreekseed.com) located near Cascade, Iowa and for his son to join with him as one of the owners, Dallefeld jumped at the chance. “It was an opportunity to start a family owned company with Kyle Dallefeld and Kyle Brouwer, while at the same time to be able to create a seed company that has as its foundation to offer producers the best products with the best solutions to meet their farm management challenges. It is our commitment to deliver the utmost quality in service, and in education.”
In addition, Dallefeld notes that Prairie Creek Seed works closely with their seed partners and emphasis is on its branded forage products. “It is our goal to be producer driven in making our selections and developing product lines.”
Capitalizing on Dallefeld’s 20+ years of experience in the seed world, Prairie Creek Seed has developed a network of quality seed partners and over 100 regional dealers that are dedicated to helping their customers make wise decisions that will help them maintain their margin of profitability. According to Dallefeld, Prairie Creek Seed has customers from Pennsylvania to Idaho and from Missouri north. “So basically, we’re working with producers from the inter-mountain area through the upper Midwest.”
When you’re dealing with Mother Nature’s fickleness, each year brings a new set of challenges from floods to droughts, so a well thought out management plan is extremely important. “It is our goal to give good common sense solutions. We want to help our customers choose the seeds and a plan that matches the season and the environment in that part of the country,” says Dallefeld. The recent years of drought and extremes in the weather have had a profound impact on the farming and cattle industry, and as a result, producers have had to figure the best way to manage their land to get the most productivity from it.
Prairie Creek Seed believes that the best options to achieve this include the following:
To manage perennial pastures to allow adequate rest and recovery time. This will increase pasture density and actually increase yields and allow the pastures to tolerate more dry weather and heat. To utilize both annual forages and cover crops to extend the grazing season and fill in the times when the perennial pastures are in their typical “summer slump” of low productivity.
“The cool thing for us is to see the innovative things that producers are doing to adjust to these weather situations. They are keeping their options open. One of the options that many of our customers are turning to that can maximize their available land for pasture and forage is the annual forage chain concept. This chain helps protect pasture stands and stretch available forage, offers annual forage crops that provide high quality grazing and leaves open the option to harvest the forages for winter feeding if there is excess growth,” says Dallefeld.
Prairie Creek Seed offers a diverse balance of cool and warm-season forage species designed to maximize forage yield and nutritional qualities that complement the farm-management methods of the upper Midwest. “In addition, we offer a choice of products that fits the varied nutritional needs of different livestock classes,” says Dallefeld.
Looking at it in terms of dry matter production, Dallefeld poses this idea. “By harvesting each of these seasonal plantings, producers are able to reduce purchased hay cost by having quality forage that has already been utilized by the cattle through grazing that particular season. If we can pick up two ton of dry matter from our spring annual forage, then 4–5 tons from the summer planting and another potential 1–2 ton in the fall, we’re really increased the cost efficiency there.” These yields actually compete with corn silage in terms of yield. Being competitive with a large-yield crop such as corn silage then a producer can justify placing some of their “high dollar” row crop acres into a forage crop to enhance a crop rotation. Perhaps the most important part of the annual forage chain is that the chain gives the pasture time to rest and replenish itself!
Dallefeld adds that combining an annual forage chain/ pasture management plan has no limits. It will work with any operation, large and small. The bottom line: proper management at the proper time = success! Let’s take a look at this annual forage chain. “Even though we are now approaching the summer annual planting time, we’ll start at the beginning with the spring.”
Planting spring annual forage works best when the soil temperatures at 2 inches are in the low 40s. According to Dallefeld, this is most often in late March to early April. “Of course, each year is different, and you need to plan accordingly. This year was one of those exceptions!” Dallefeld suggests forage oats or if you need forage earlier than that, then an early grain oat would be grazable sooner. If you are planting a forage oat, then including turnips would be a good addition. Oats generally take about 60 days to get to the boot stage and best quality, but you can start grazing them earlier if needed. NOTE: The initial start of a forage chain can be cumbersome, but when you get a feel for what works it can be utilized in a rotation quite easily. It would be best if the oats were at least 14" plus to start grazing. This would allow you to graze through the forage sooner and have the ability to plant the summer annuals in a timely fashion. This forage can be used until early June. Although it’s tempting to continue, Dallefeld says if you want to maximize the annual forage program, at this point the cattle need to be taken out, so that the next planting can occur. “If the oats is still growing well, now is the time to harvest it and store it for later feeding. It will make good feed, especially if it is ion the boot stage or just starting to head out.” In the northern tier of states it may be possible to graze the cool season annual into early July. At that point, though, it might not pay to plant the summer annual. Instead, the producer would wait until early August to come in with another round of cool season forage for fall and early winter feeding.
The time to plant the summer annual forage is when the soil temperature is 60 degrees and rising, which usually takes place in late May to early June. With the spring forage harvested and if the soil is nice and mellow, Dallefeld suggests no-tilling the summer annual of choice: sorghum, sudangrass or teff. If the soil is hard or compacted, then it needs to be lightly tilled. When the forage growth is 20–24 inches in height, depending on the variety or species planted, the cattle can be moved back in for grazing. “Even in dry weather, the summer forage will grow, but if there is adequate moisture, the forage will grow like crazy. Any rain will give the forage growth spurts.” This forage can be used until about mid-August. At that time, put the cattle on pasture again, and mechanically harvest the forage crop. Another option would be to graze the forages up to a killing frost if the field is going into another crop the following year. “I had mentioned the basic summer annuals, we tend to look at the location of the producer and their objectives with the summer production as to what to recommend. Sorghum sudangrass is great forage for grazing and silage.”
These are some of the options offered by Prairie Creek Seed:
Sorghum sudangrass varies within the different varieties for management practices. A standard SxS needs a stubble height of 6–8 inches after cutting or grazing, while the brachytic dwarf varieties can be grazed or cut to leave a stubble height of 3–4 inches. Brachytic dwarf varieties have shortened internodes, which improve standability when harvesting them late for maximum tonnage. Stubble height is important for recovery time and tillering. Depending on when a producer is going to be able to plant the summer annual, keep in mind that standard SxS will establish a little faster and recover just a little quicker. Some of this might be visual as the dwarf varieties are more compact and have more leaf area, but our observations do show that this is the case on certain varieties.
Sudangrass is faster to establish and quick to recover after cuttings and grazing. Sudangrass is an exceptional forage especially as we move north. Sudangrass will be faster to establish and faster to recovery than most SxS varieties. “Where we are only going to be able to graze two or three times, they will out yield other species and still be very good quality.
Sudangrass is best suited for grazing and making baleage.” There are some cautionary aspects of all forages, but both sorghum sudangrass and sudangrass are known for prussic acid development after a frosts or when rapid growth occurs after stress such as drought. While a producer should be use caution after these events, the overall value of sorghum species in a cattle enterprise are well worth the risks that are very manageable.
Simply pull the cattle off the fields and allow time for the prussic acid to dissipate. If the field is going to be cut for silage than cut it, but be sure to allow it to wilt in the field to harvest moisture. Do not feed the silage until it has had adequate time to ferment adequately. “It would be our recommendation that whatever sorghum sudangrass or sudangrass a producer plans to plant that it be a BMR (brown midrib).
BMR varieties offer significant improvements in digestibility and palatability over most of the standard varieties. They are well worth the added cost with improved intake, rates of gain and milk production in a lactating cow,” notes Dallefeld.
Teff is a very good forage that requires extra management to achieve the best results, but it can be made for dry hay or grazed. The management details include a good firm seedbed and soil to seed contact with a very shallow planting depth. Grazing requirements are that teff be grazed at before the boot stage. When grazing or cutting for hay, it is best to leave a 3–4 inch stubble height for fast recovery. A producer will want to monitor the growth of teff closely as with warm temperatures and good moisture they may be grazing it more frequently than other annual crops.
In August or when it is time to plant a fall grazing crop, options open up again. A producer can come in with a spring annual to be grazed that fall, but it will not overwinter, or a winter crop that can be grazed in the fall with the opportunity to graze it again in the spring. “I would suggest that if the field is going into a row crop that oats, turnips or rape and possibly a winter pea could be planted,” says Dallefeld. This late summer planting also creates an opportunity to plant some Tillage Radish® to do some deeper tillage and to help hold nutrients for the next crop.
Dallefeld believes “winter triticale or winter rye grain both would be great fall crops that can be grazed in the fall and again in the spring. With these crops, it makes the timing a little better for including the summer annuals again the next year in the chain.” Winter triticale or winter rye could be planted with a legume or turnip or radish as well to create diversity of plants to improve forage quality. All of the late summer planted forages should be grazable in October to November to extend the grazing season. In late summer if moisture and the soil is right and the cover is short, you can easily no-till the fall forage crop. “I like to see turnips used because they provide needed protein and digestible fiber for the cattle. They provide added energy as well.” The cool season plants are cold tolerant, so even with snowy weather, Dallefeld has often seen cattle graze on this fall forage until early January.
The Bottom Line
The possibilities are almost endless to supplement pastures and keep the cattle harvesting forages reducing harvest costs. “I have seen some very innovative strategies in play, everything from planting Italian ryegrass with spring wheat to a real applications of fall forage crops. I do like to see as much diversity of species as possible to both feed the soil and build better quality forage when we can. Incorporating a grass, brassica and legume would be ideal. It seems that when we add diversity to a plan that it increases both quality and yield. As a result, the following year crops benefit as well from the soil health improvements.