Cool-season forages have long been the highest quality feed that can be grown for winter livestock supplementation in the Southeast.
Land preparation, seed and fertilizer costs have risen to the point that ranchers should be very selective to ensure the type of cool-season forages fit their management system, and that the varieties of seed purchased have been tested in the region for performance and disease resistance.
There are a number of choices as to the type of annual cool season forages to grow. There is no single best choice, but blends can provide longer seasons of grazing and protection against variable climate and weather conditions.
Cool season forages are most productive when planted on tilled-land set aside for annual forage crops, or following warm season row crops immediately after harvest.
While the majority of cool season forages are grown for grazing, they can also be used to make excellent quality hay and silage, which may be an alternative for crop land without fencing, or not convenient for animal grazing.
Small grains, such as oats, rye, triticale and wheat, offer rapid, vigorous growth and early grazing after planting.
Most small grain varieties have been developed for grain production; however, there are forage types. Because they are a large seeded crop, small grains should be planted 1-2 inches deep and are most productive when planted on a prepared seedbed with a drill. Small grains grown for hay or silage have greater risk of disease and should be scouted and treated as needed using labeled pesticides.
Ryegrass and the brassicas are small-seeded cool-season annual forages with wide adaptability to Florida soils. Ryegrass provides high-quality forage and is excellent for grazing, hay or silage.
The brassicas: turnips, kale, and rape are actually winter vegetables that provide rapid growth for quick, but limited grazing.
Ryegrass and turnips can be planted with a drill, cultipacker seeder or broadcast and lightly covered and can even be planted with a no-till drill or aerator in dormant sod.
Cool season legumes are small-seeded plants that do not require nitrogen fertilizer and will provide some residual nitrogen for warm-season crops that follow.
Legumes generally require higher soil pH than perennial grasses. Legumes do require specific inoculants or bacteria that produce nitrogen on their roots.
Most commercial legume seed comes coated or pre-inoculated but some need the inoculant mixed with seed just prior to planting.
Legumes can be over-seeded into dormant perennial grass pastures, or planted in blends with small grains or ryegrass to improve forage quality and extend the grazing season.
If allowed to mature and produce seed, there are several legume varieties that will reseed. Legumes are sensitive to many of the broadleaf herbicides used in pastures, so you may be forced to decide which is more valuable, a weed free pasture or the legumes.