Forage Systems Research Center Field Day

Valerie Montgomery, an agricultural science teacher in Bucklin, Mo. and CAFNR graduate, examines a forage stick, a device used for measuring forage height and density.

This summer’s drought and heat put pressure on many Missouri livestock producers. Researchers from the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources presented strategies to deal with those pressures and shared ongoing research on pasture management and improvement at the Forage Systems Research Center’s Field Day on Sept. 29.

Nevin Nolt came to the Field Day for the first time. He uses rotational grazing with his cattle near Wheeling, Mo. and wanted to learn about the research at the Center, one of 20 around the state at which the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources conducts impactful research benefitting Missouri farmers.

Nolt asked Justin Sexten, MU beef nutrition specialist, about feeding clover to his herd and managing the risk of bloat. Sexten suggested he introduce it slowly, and around noon when there is no longer dew on the ground and when cattle are full, so they’re less likely to fill up on the clover. Sexten also shared strategies to save money, and urged producers to forage test. “Even if you have a three-head herd, you can pay for a forage test,” Sexten said. “Without it, producers are guessing at supplementation, which could lead to under or over feeding, both of which can be costly to a producer’s bottom line,” he said. Local extension offices can provide more information on forage testing.

Scott Wheatcraft raises cattle with his father, Tom, on a farm that’s been in their family for more than 50 years. They came to the Field Day to learn about warm-season grasses because they’d like to add more of them to their pastures. Scott Wheatcraft asked Kevin Bradley, associate professor and state weed scientist at MU, about frequency of spraying pastures for weed control. Bradley’s presented research on cattle’s choice of pasture treated for weeds over untreated pastures. With effective management, Bradley said producers could spray only once every 5 or more years and have higher quality forages.

Craig Roberts, MU plant science professor addressed another common forage dilemma for producers: What are the permissible toxin levels if I make hay or silage from tall fescue? Endophyte-infected tall fescue costs the Missouri beef industry more than $160 million per year, Roberts said. The economic loss comes primarily from three conditions: poor weight gain, poor reproduction and poor milk production.

“How toxic is my hay?,” another farmer asked. “If you leave it in the field to cure for one week, toxicity levels drop by one-third to one-half,” Roberts said. “Oxygen, sunlight and heat all help break down the toxins.”

Roberts also recommended using ammoniated hay, or hay covered with plastics and treated with anhydrous ammonia. It makes more of the hay digestible and partly detoxifies it—improving the overall quality of it. Roberts also suggested putting silage up wet—close to 60 percent moisture. “It packs tight and the microbes inside will continue to break down the toxins,” he said.

Researchers at the Center have years of forage studies to build from. The Center is the largest outdoor laboratory of its type in the eastern half of the United States. This year, Dave Davis, superintendent of the Center, invited schools from Linn County to bring their agricultural students to learn from the discoveries made at the Center.

Valerie Montgomery brought 19 agricultural science students from Bucklin, Mo., where she teaches food science, conservation and horticulture. This was her first Field Day at FSRC, and she said the forage presentations sparked some new ideas to use in her classroom, including doing some forage assessments.

The Field Day featured two wagon tours and a walking tour that included presentations about Missouri’s forest resources, using technology and weather data to improve farming practices and internship opportunities at the Forage Systems Research Center.