Native warm season grasses can improve wildlife habitat while providing forage for livestock


By RUTH CORRELL
Wilson County Agricultural Agent

In the early 1990s attention began focusing on a category of grasses that were once native to Tennessee fields and land as well as much of the United States.

These grasses are known as native warm season grasses (NWSG). They are clump grasses that thrive in hot weather and go dormant during cold weather. They are very tolerant of drought and a variety of soil types. These grasses provide good habitat for wildlife and good forage for livestock. Some species can even be used as ornamental grasses in a landscape. NWSG include big bluestem, little bluesteam, Indiangrass, switchgrass and Eastern gamagrass among others.

NWSG disappeared from fields and pastures as non-native species were introduced. Tall fescue and other grasses such orchardgrass, Bermuda grass, crabgrass and dallisgrass are non-native grasses that were introduced from Europe, Africa and South American and have come to be the predominate grasses present. Land and pasture management changed to favor the non-native species and as a result the NWSG grasses gradually declined and no longer thrived. Along with the decline of the NWSG, it was noticed there was also a decline in populations of northern bobwhites and grassland songbirds.

To make a long story short, the experts put two and two together and concluded that the NWSG had provided a much needed habitat for these types of birds as well as the rabbits. At this point they began work to restore the much needed habitat before these wildlife species were completely lost. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency have worked and continue working to encourage the restoration of these grasses by offering cost-share programs to help landowners plant NWSG.

NWSG are not only good for wildlife but can fit into forage programs for livestock. NWSG produce quality forage which can be grazed or harvested as hay. They produce quality forage during the warm/hot months of the year when cool season grasses are not producing. They are not tolerant of overgrazing but are very tolerant of droughty conditions as the root systems are very extensive and reach deep into the soils to obtain moisture. Properly managed, NWSG can work along with the cool season annuals and perennials to provide year round forage. A major issue over the past 5-7 years has been drought periods and forage production. NWSG could be an answer to forage issues during the hot, dry periods.

Much has been made of the possibility of using NWSG as a source for biofuel production. Research using switchgrass for the production of ethanol is being studied by the University of Tennessee. Switchgrass requires low inputs, can grow on marginal to poor soils and has a high biomass yield. There is still much work yet to be done to determine if this is viable source of biofuels but it deserves additional study if it could possibly add value to non-productive land and also provide an alternative source of energy.

NWSG can have several potential benefits, such as improvement of wildlife habitat and serve as a quality source of forage for livestock. They can fit into a mixed forage program of a combination of cool season and warm season grasses and provide forage in hot, dry weather conditions. To top that off, it may be a source of biofuels sometime in the future.

To learn more about NWSG, you can attend a meeting at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center on Monday, Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Town Hall building in the Fiddlers Grove area of the Ag Center. Dr. Jason de Koff, an agronomy and soils specialist with Tennessee State University, will be speaking. Dr. de Koff has extensive experience in NWSG grass production. Please join us for this meeting.

Cattle Market Trends

Report for week ending 2/15. Slaughter cows steady, $65.00-$84.50; Slaughter bulls steady, $90.00-$102.50; Feeder steers under 550 lbs. $8 to $15 lower, over 550 lbs. $2 to $8 lower, $108.00-$225.00; Feeder heifers under 550 lbs. $8 to $15 lower, over 550 lbs. $2 to $8 lower, $100.00-$180.00; Feeder Cattle Index - Wednesdays index $142.42. Fed Cattle 5 area live price of $122.79 is down $3.73 and the dressed price is down $2.55 at $195.86. Cattle Receipts (# sales): This week: 7,622 (12) Week ago: 8,400 (12) Year ago: 8,100 (12). (UT Market Highlights)

Cattle Market Comments

Calves lost two weeks worth of upward price movement in one quick swoop. There are so many pressures on cattle markets such as feed costs, consumer demand for beef, and drought related issues which include areas with little to no stock water that even the lower supply of cattle cannot overcome the downward price spiral. Both live cattle and feeder cattle futures have been struggling This weeks price decline on local markets probably has many cow-calf producers a little unnerved and probably has those who sold calves this week with a look of great disappointment relative to those who marketed calves last week. Cattle market indicators still point to increases in cattle prices, especially the second half of the year. As we roll into March, calf prices and cull cattle are likely to make some positive price movements. It is not likely they will outpace last years record prices the first half of the year, but be expecting the prices to strengthen. This may be the opportunity stocker producers have been looking for to purchase a few lightweight calves. With prices of calves declining as much as $15 from last week and the expectation of 7 and 8 weight cattle prices to be strong in July and August, a strong profit margin may be achievable. Regardless of a producer being a cow-calf or stocker operator, there will be opportunities this year to earn a high price. The key to making a profit with those cattle will lie in the ability of a producer to manage costs. Cost management is always important, but it may be even more important in years of elevated prices. (Dr. Andrew Griffith, UT Extension)

Grain Market Trends

Report for week ending 2/15. Cotton prices are mixed while corn, soybeans, and wheat prices are down for the week. There is no doubt that this year will be another year of volatile prices as the market tries to sort out potential weather problems, large acreages of corn and soybeans and a reduction in cotton acreage. Crop outlook, particularly for soybeans and grains is much the same as it was a year ago. Weather and possibly Chinese agricultural policy will most likely be the market drivers to watch. Corn Weekly exports were within expectations. Prices at nearby elevators ran $7.00-$7.54. May futures closed at $6.97 a bushel, down 11 cents a bushel for the week. Soybeans Weekly exports were below expectations. Prices at nearby elevators ran $14.24-$14.93. May futures closed at $14.14 a bushel, down 22 cents a bushel since last Friday. Wheat Weekly exports were well above expectations. Prices at nearby elevators ran $7.72-$7.96. May futures closed at $7.48 a bushel, down 14 cents for the week through Thursday. (Chuck Danehower, UT Extension)

TN Goat and Sheep Sale Report

Sale on 2/11. Receipts: 764 (431 Goats; 333 Sheep) Last Sale 688.

Goats: Slaughter kids, $143.00- $229.00; Slaughter bucks, $83.00-$113.00; Slaughter nannies, $75.00-$120.00; Feeder kids, $105.00-$174.00. Sheep: Slaughter lambs, $112.00-$173.00; Slaughter ewes, $60.00-$88.00; Slaughter rams, $53.00-$110.00. (TN/USDA Market Summary)

For additional information on these and other topics, contact the UT Extension Office, 925 East Baddour Pkwy., Lebanon, or call 444-9584 or email acorrell@utk.edu. UT Extension provides equal opportunities in all programs. Visit the UT/TSU Extension webpage at http://utextension.tennessee.edu/wilson or look for UT & TSU Extension, Wilson County on Facebook.