With the continuation of hot, dry weather, many producers are seeking feed to get their livestock through the winter. I want to draw some attention to a few available resources and options.

If feed is already short, and you’re looking for grazing options, check out the South Dakota Grazing Exchange website — sdgrazingexchange.com. The Grazing Exchange is a great free resource created by the SD Soil Health Coalition.

It helps to connect crop and livestock producers while working to return livestock to the landscape and improve soil health. It’s a free, easy-to-use online map that offers a platform for producers throughout the region to connect with one another.

Information is categorized based upon forage and livestock grazing opportunities. The site provides forage growers free advertising of available grazing acres and lists details associated with the land parcel(s). Livestock growers alike, have the chance to post details regarding animals they are interested in re-locating for grazing.

For a tutorial on how to use the site, visit sdgrazingexchange.com and click ‘watch how-to video’.

Another great free resource is the SDSU Extension Feed & Forage Finder Facebook page.

This Facebook group — hosted by SDSU Extension — is a free tool for members to share resources and information about feed and forages that producers have for sale or are seeking to purchase. Postings of hay, silage, pasture, custom feeding/care and commodity feeds are welcome.

All agreements, arrangements, dealings, etc. that happen as a result of communications on the page are solely the responsibility of the individuals/businesses involved. To join the group, visit facebook.com and search “SDSU Extension Feed & Forage Finder.” Once you reached the page, click “request to join.”

Aside from buying feed or renting grazing acres, there may be opportunities to grow more feed on your operation this fall — pending rainfall, of course.

Now is the time to think about fitting a cover crop into your rotation. There are many different advantages to using cover crops including reducing pest pressures, keeping the soil protected, recycling nutrients, adding organic matter, additional forage opportunities, and more. Begin by choosing a couple of main goals — this will aid in choosing the mix or crop that is right for you.

This year, many producers will be interested in extending their grazing acres into the winter months and should consider the following:

  • Herbicide history: Consider any pesticides applied in the past two years. Look at all planting, haying/chopping, and grazing restrictions that apply to the cover crops you may be considering as this may limit what cover crops are safe to plant.
  • Seed availability and price: Many producers wish to keep cover crop costs low, but do remember that improved soil health and forage crops come at a price and some investment will be needed.
  • Crop rotation: Keep your 2021 and intended 2022 cash crop in mind. It is recommended to plant cover crops that are diverse from your cash crops. Ideally, this means alternating grasses and broadleaves, as well as cool- and warm-season plants in your rotation.
  • Termination: Some cover crops will winter kill, however others may over winter — cereal rye, winter wheat, triticale, etc. — or produce seed that may stay dormant in the soil such as ryegrass or vetch. This should not eliminate these crops as an option but rather they will require prompt attention in the spring.
  • Weed control: If you have particular weed issues, keep this in mind when planting cover crops as some plants are better at weed suppression than others and particular species may allow certain herbicide applications to be made.
  • Soil fertility: If you intend to use a cover crop as forage, nitrogen application should be considered. Check the South Dakota Fertilizer Recommendations Guide for suggested rates and guidelines for SD crops.
  • Planting time: Generally speaking, cool-season cover crops like small grains, peas, clovers, radish, and turnip should be planted near or around the third week of July as average daily temperatures start to drop. However, we see a variety of later planting dates each year pending small grain harvest and silage chopping. Warm-season species, such as sorghums, buckwheat, sunflower, and millets are more suited to be planted in June or July, but ideally no later than the first week of August.

On top of the typical considerations, we have to remember the elephant in the room — drought.

We can have the best-laid plans, but if there is no soil moisture, we can’t expect seeds to germinate. It’s always a good plan to consider the forecast when planting and keep seed cost and related operating expenses in mind when weighing the risks of having a cover crop fail, versus the extra feed or soil health benefits it could provide on your operation.

It’s also important to take the intended cover crop’s water needs into consideration — as well as its water uptake with consideration to next year’s cash crop. Some suggested crops to consider this fall include:

  • Low water using broadleaves: clovers — Alsike, Red, White — chickling vetch, lentil and pea
  • Grass options: Low-water users like oat and awnless barley. And over-winter options like winter wheat and winter rye.