Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
By Rayford Pullen
Jul 10, 2018
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If youíve ever wondered which month of the year the wind blows the least, just get you a windmill and a small trough for a herd of cattle and youíll soon find yourself hauling water in August.  Not much good can be said about August most years but hot and dry seems to describe it best.

As we all look for a cooler place to be, anywhere the air-conditioning is working is just fine, itís a great time to begin thinking about our plans for the fall which is just around the corner and with it hopefully cooler temperatures.  Our major focus this time of year is making plans for our fall and winter pastures which on our place is establishing ryegrass for fall and winter grazing.

We have seen and done many things over the years with some working and some not when it comes to getting the biggest bang for our buck in regards to early grazing and winter forage.  Weíve done the wheat, rye, oats, triticale, barley, turnips, ryegrass and combinations of all these, but when the sun set we discovered that the best thing that worked for us was ryegrass but we had to do the right things at the right time to make it work.  By using the ryegrass and planting it right we were able to greatly reduce or eliminate the health problems associated with the most common winter forage wheat.  We had a lot less insect problems and seldom have had to spray for any insects except armyworms on rare occasion.  Deleting wheat from our program also greatly reduced and mostly eliminated cattle dying from bloat and wheat grass tetany in our cows nursing calves.

Cattle do good on wheat in terms of gains, but when compared to ryegrass, you have fewer grazing days and a lot more death loss.

So, what is the right way to plant your winter ryegrass pasture?

If you are planting on cowboy-plowed ground, which can range from disking a couple of times to maybe a chiseling and a discing, when we donít see anything but soil, mission accomplished. But, to get the early grazing, you must pack the ground with a roller of some sort so when you walk across the field you donít leave foot prints much more than a quarter of an inch or so deep.

Next, we prefer to broadcast our seed and fertilizer blended together and set the spreader on half rate and drive on 20-foot centers since that is the width the spreader will throw the seed.  The fertilizer goes twice as far as the ryegrass seed out of the spreader and in this scenario, you are applying the correct amount of fertilizer at the same time.  This also makes a carpet of plants as opposed to rows 7-9 inches apart in the case of drilled wheat which helps prevent cattle bogging down in wet weather and reducing gains.  Iím sure if youíre reading this I probably lost you on the rolling part to firm and pack the ground prior to seeding because you donít have a packer, and if so, be reminded that this is the most important thing to do to get early grazing using ryegrass.  Make arrangements to buy, borrow or rent a packer; it is that important.  Our seeding rate is 25 pounds of ryegrass per acre and 200 pounds of fertilizer which supplies our nitrogen and potassium and hopefully get this all done by the first week of September here in North Texas.  We may add phosphorous on occasion if needed.  We like our ryegrass to be able to take off and run in the fall when growing conditions are still good.  We donít wait to fertilize after seeing if we have a stand because we know day length is getting shorter and nighttime temperatures are getting lower and both slow growth.

By broadcasting our seed and leaving it on top of the ground, we have found that it takes a half of an inch of rain or more before it will germinate which reduces the chance of the seed geminating from a little shower and then have it turn off dry and die as is the case if the seed is surrounded by soil as opposed to lying on top of the ground and having the ground crust over and prevent the seed from emerging after germination is also eliminated, it cannot happen.
When overseeding permanent pastures such as grass, you have an entirely different situation.  Plants do not grow in the shade and if we expect to have fall grazing, we must eliminate or at least reduce shade to get sunlight to our newly planted seed to get it growing.  We can do this this by running a disc over the grass weíre planting into or using a herbicide such as glyphosate to slow it down or both. 

Either way, planting into standing grass 4-6 inches tall will not amount to much grazing until the shade is reduced by a freeze.  We overseed a couple of weeks later than we do on plowed ground since the permanent pastures are actively growing.  Our warm season grasses such as Bermuda stop growing in the fall when nighttime temperature start getting 45 degrees or lower consistently which is about October 15 in our area of North Texas. 

There is no need to use a packer when planting over non-plowed ground but the discing will double fall forage production and if used with a herbicide, you can expect even more.  Our seeding and fertilizer rates and broadcasting distances are the same as on plowed ground. If using a no till drill, the discing will still substantially increase fall production since the no till drill does not do a good job of setting the grass back to allow sunlight penetration to the newly planted seed.  There is also no good reason to run anything over the field after planting since the first rain will put the seed in contact with the soil.

And where else can you get 3-5 tons of feed for less than $100.

Complete planting information is available on our web site at and clicking on the Marshall ryegrass tab.  While we are now using Nelson ryegrass on our place, doing the right thing at the right time is still the most important thing to do regarding getting the best forage when we need it the most.

Itís a wonderful time to be in the cattle business.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Rayford Pullen

Pullen Angus