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Alabama counties have experienced increased levels of drought throughout this past summer and fall. To successfully survive drought conditions, producers must develop a plan that considers not only the present, but also the future. Developing a plan to preserve next year's calf crop is a key part of planning for a successful future. This article will explain the nutritional requirements of beef cows for reproduction and explore management strategies to help preserve next year's calf crop in the current drought situation.

Requirements for Reproductive Success:

Beef cows should be managed to calve at a minimum body condition score (BCS) of 5 to ensure that they have adequate flesh to return to cycling and establish pregnancy. BCS allow producers to estimate the fat stores on their cattle and range from 1 to 9, with 1 being extremely emaciated and 9 being extremely obese. Cows of a BCS 5 will have a good overall appearance, with some fat covering over their spine, ribs, hips, and around their tailhead. As BCS drops below 5, bones become less and less covered by fat and become more visible.

Determining your cows' BCS and managing animals to maintain a BCS ≥5 is essential to ensuring reproductive success. BCS and nutritional status at both calving and during the breeding season affect reproductive success, so it is important to know where your cows are in their production cycle and manage them accordingly.  Cows' BCS/nutritional status at calving affects the length of time it takes for them to return to cycling after calving, with cows of low nutritional status at calving taking longer to return to cycling post calving. Once the breeding season is entered, low levels of nutrition and BCS<5 cause reduced pregnancy rates. To survive the drought with next year's calf crop intact, cows must be fed to maintain their BCS.

Cows require different levels of nutrition at different stages of production. Understanding cow nutrient requirements will help producers meet the needs of their cows to maintain a BCS ≥5.

 Reference this timely information sheet to learn more about supplementing beef cows on stored hay.

 Recognize that your cows' needs are the highest in early lactation. This is the time period when we also need cows to return to cycling and become pregnant. Corners should not be cut during this important time period. Furthermore, note that it's easiest to put weight on cows after weaning. If you currently have thin, dry, pregnant cows it is a good idea to use this time to allow them to gain weight necessary to increase their BCS to 5. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to gain 1 BCS with each 80 lbs of weight gain in mature beef cows.

Pregnancy examination is essential in all years, but is extremely important this winter as we continue or recover from drought. If cows have not been examined for pregnancy, consider having a veterinarian palpate your cows and cull open cows that have weaning age calves. This will allow for added income and less mouths to feed through the winter and early spring.  As you complete this year's breeding season, pregnancy check your cows. Since resources were limited, there is a chance that BCS dropped too low and more cows than usual may be open at the end of the breeding season. It is essential to identify and cull these individuals.


Additional Strategies in Times of Extreme Drought:

  1. Pay attention to your heifers- 2-year-old heifers nursing their first calves have higher nutritional needs than their mature counterparts since they are still growing. Furthermore, they are often bucked away from feed sources by older animals. It is a good idea to always manage heifers away from the mature cowherd, however in years of drought and limited feedstuffs it may be essential to allowing them to consume the necessary amount of hay/supplement to maintain their BCS for reproductive success.
  2. Consider early weaning of calves- if cows go into calving thin or become extremely poor while nursing young calves, it may be necessary to wean calves early to allow cows to regain the condition needed for reproduction. Calves 90 days and older can be successfully weaned onto free choice long stemmed hay with correct supplementation. Removing calves may help "jump start" cows to return to cycling and will lessen cows' nutrient requirements so weight can be gained.

By taking care to manage cattle to nutritional levels necessary for pregnancy success, a producer can preserve next year's calf crop through drought situations.               

​As Alabama continues to experience drought conditions across the state, many cattle producers are thinking about how they can economically feed cattle through the winter months. With limited rainfall, forage production potential is low, which means most producers will rely on stored forage and supplement to meet the nutritional needs of the herd. Initial hay reserves left over from the 2015 season have now been exhausted, and most are feeding this year's crop. Limited rainfall over the spring and summer months in 2016 reduced the number of hay harvests this year. In the best cases, some producers averaged three to four cuttings. However, those in areas of extreme drought may have only been able to harvest one or two cuttings at best. Strategies for managing the nutritional needs for cattle now are going to be based off of these supplies and require some forward thinking into projected conditions for spring 2017. 

Three Things Producers Can Do Today

  1. Estimate the amount of hay available and how many days of feeding this will provide - A good rule of thumb is that a mature cow will consume between 2.0 to 2.5% of her body weight per day in dry matter. This is roughly about how much hay needs to be provided per day per head.
  2. Conduct a forage analysis to determine quality - A forage analysis can provided needed information about the nutritional value of the forage (specifically, energy, protein, and mineral composition). Visit with your Animal Science and Forage regional extension agent about the results to determine if supplementation is needed to help cattle maintain good body condition this winter.
  3. Feed hay in a sacrifice paddock - While it might be tempting to leave the gate open and let cattle graze any remaining stubble in the pasture, this can negatively impact stand health and the potential for recovery once the rain returns. Consider keeping cattle in more of a drylot situation, also known as a sacrific paddock, to minimize damage across the farm. 

Three Things Producers Must Consider Now for Later

  1. Be prepared to address a spring forage production gap - The effects of this year's drought will impact forage production in spring 2017 as perennial grass pastures break dormancy. Depending on the amount of rainfall received this winter, it is likely that there will be both delayed and reduced forage production in March and April, a time where many producers count on the ability to get out of the window for hay feeding. This is because these plants experienced stress both from extreme grazing pressure and lack of water for regrowth in the previous management season. Cattle producers must be prepared to meet the nutritional needs of cattle during this window when forage production may be lacking.
  2. Locate alternative roughages now - If you project that you will run out of hay, now is the time to locate alternative roughage sources. Because many of these byproducts are seasonal in nature (a result of recent row crop harvests), there is a limited supply of these resources and local availability is currently at its peak. More information on alternative feeds can be found in our Timely Information sheet on alternative feeding strategies for beef cattle during drought. 
  3. Be prepared to address some hard questions. - The cost of feeding hay and supplement through the winter is a significant input cost. In a time of depressed cattle markets, consider if the cost benefit of carrying animals through the winter is worth the potential return. Watch the body condition of the herd closely throughout the winter. Develop a culling strategy and be prepared to implement it now and later. 

As Alabama continues with below average rainfall and above average temperatures, the drought is taking its toll on the pastures and hayfields. In drought situations, animals will eat plants that they normally probably wouldn't because of the lack of forage availability. This leads to many animals eating toxic plants that are normally not eaten by them, although they have always been present in the field.  Toxic plants may be found in fields, in shade areas, or on fence lines, and although not normally palatable, animals eat them for survival. Unfortunately, toxic plants contain nitrates, cyanide, tannins, and certain alkaloids and glycoalkaolids that when eaten, can cause neurological, physiological, and even death.  

 Spiny Amaranth 2.jpg       Some common toxic plants that are present in Alabama include perilla mint, jimsonweed, pigweed, ragweed, pine trees (tannin in the needles), nightshades, groundcherry, johnsongrass, goldenrod, Canada thistle, corn, wheat, oats, sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass, brackenfern, mountain laurel, oaks, poison hemlock, pokeweed, crotalaria, and wild cherry.  This is only a partial list of the toxic plants that are present in Alabama but are very common. 

        The age-old question of "why are my forages dying but my weeds are healthy and surviving?"  is becoming more and more prevalent as the drought continues. Weeds, unlike improved forages, have the ability to adapt to droughty conditions. They have the ability to keep water inside and maintain it, close off their stomates so that no water escapes, grow longer roots to find water, and even change their leaves so that they will keep more water. Unfortunately, improved plants that have been bred for different characteristics don't have this innate ability.  Therefore, that is why your forages are dying while your weeds are still alive.

        The question is how do I control these weeds in a drought? Since stomates must be open for a plant to "take in" a herbicide, and in a drought, stomates are closed, herbicide applications for these plants are not advised. Until there are several rains and the drought is lifted is only when a herbicide application would be advised. The only practice that is recommended is to mow selectively the toxic plants (not the forage), making sure to get all of the seed head, which is often the most toxic.  If the high temperatures continue, a frost will be delayed however, if normal temperatures start to occur, a frost can help to kill your toxic plants and aid in the control of some of them.  However, a frost can also cause nitrate levels to increase in plants, which may cause more toxicity to occur.  


It would be nice if we could be done with fall armyworms for the year. But they will be around until the first hard frost. Please keep looking for fall armyworms in your forage crops. On the bright side, as the weather cools down it will take longer for the armyworms to complete a generation.

I am especially concerned about small grains that are planted early for forage, wildlife, or cover crops, such as wheat, oats, and rye. These small grains should be scouted from emergence through the first hard frost. These newly planted grains should be scouted frequently, at least once a week, by visually examining the plants. A sweep net can be used as a first detection tool in overseeded areas where the perennial grass is still green. The sweep net is not useful in row crop areas until the wheat gets about 4 inches tall. On the smaller plants, look for signs of something feeding on the plants. Also look for the small caterpillars under any crop debris in the field. They tend to hide during the day. Scouting early in the morning or late in the increases the chances of seeing the caterpillars on the foliage. Pay close attention to any bare spots in the field, which could be a sign that something isdefoliating the seedling grain.

A reasonable threshold to use in fall planted small grains is 1 caterpillar per square foot. This is adjusted downward from the 2-3 per square foot threshold we use for established grass forages.

Insecticides are available to control the fall armyworms on wheat and other small grains. However, they are not all the same as those used on grass forages. So here is the link to the small grain IPM Guide: Small Grain IPM Guide - IPM-0458. The insecticides recommended for use for fall armyworms are listed in Table 5 starting on page 7. Only one trade name for each active ingredient is listed in Table 5. So you may need to check Table 6, which starts on page 12. This table contains a list of most of the generic insecticides. Some insecticides labeled on small grains are not labeled for perennial grass pastures and hayfields. So in situations where the small grain has been overseeded into perennial grass sod,be sure to pickan insecticide thatis alsolabelled for perennial grass forages (see 2016 Insect and Weed Control Recommendations - IPM-0028). Remember, it is not legal to apply an insecticide to a site unless that site is listed on the label.

As with our summer forages, choosing an insecticide with a longer residual will provide more protection from fall armyworms. The insecticides labeled on small grains that have the longest residual for fall armyworm control are Prevathon (active ingredient chlorantraniliprole) and Besiege (active ingredients chlorantraniliprole and lambda-cyhalothrin).

Early planted small grains are also subject to infestation by Hessian fly and by aphids that spread Barley yellow dwarf and cereal yellow dwarf virus. I did a webinar yesterday that discusses management strategies for these problems, as well as for fall armyworm.


Just as a reminder, the recommended planting dates for wheat in Alabama are listed below.

North Alabama Central Alabama South Alabama

Oct. 15 - Nov. 10

Oct. 15 - Nov. 15

Nov. 15 - Dec. 1

Forage Plus Grain

Sept. 15 - Nov. 1

Sept. 15 - Nov. 1

Oct. 1 - Nov. 15


Aug. 25 - Sept. 10

Sept. 1 - Sept. 15

Sept. 15 - Sept. 30

Cover Crops

Sept. 1 - Nov. 1

Sept. 15 - Nov. 1

Sept. 15 - Nov. 15

Wildlife Planting

Aug. 15 - Nov. 1

Aug. 15 - Nov. 1

Aug. 15 -Nov. 1

As always, here are some helpful links about fall armyworm:

You can find the latest map on where damaging populations of fall armyworms have been found in several different ways:

  1. You can follow this direct link to the ArcGIS map site
  2. There is a direct link to the page from the Alabama Forages homepage underneath the *NEW* section.
  3. You can find a link to the map, as well as helpful information related to Fall Armyworm underneath the "Fall Armyworm" section of the Forages Insect Pest Management page.

Please let me know if you find them so we can keep updating the map.

Here are the individual links to various fall armyworm resources:

Instructions on how to use a sweep net to look for fall armyworm:



Insect sweep nets can be purchased at various farm and forestry supply stores.

Please let me know if you find fall armyworms in your Alabama forage grasses.

Kathy Flanders

Be sure and tell your forage growers that if they have woody perennials​ (like blackberry) that after August 31, they do not need to mow or bushhog their pastures or hayfields this year.  In order to control woody perennials, they must have at least one year of growth to treat them with a herbicide and be effective. The best time to treat woody perennials is in July-August while they are flowering, so preferably, you wouldn't want to mow them after July.  This is when the plant is translocating materials from the leaves to the root so when spraying a herbicide it will move from the leaves to the root, killing the plant. When spraying immature plants (or plants that have been mowed in less than a year), the leaves will be killed but the roots wont be.  

I have heard of several damaging chinch bug infestations in the last week.  Two reports were from pearl millet, the other from a mixed stand of grasses that included barnyardgrass.  Small grains, summer annual forage grasses, corn, and turf grasses are all hosts of chinch bugs (Blissus spp.).  Chinch bugs puncture plants with their syringe-like mouth parts and suck out the plant juice.  They tend to feed at the base of the plants.  Feeding causes different symptoms on different crops.  The image below shows damaged corn from west central Alabama in 2004.  The base of the stalk was discolored, brittle, and starting to lodge.  Damaged plantsof other grasses may be tinged with purple or yellow, or they may turn completely brown.  Plants become distinctly stunted.  The base of the stem may become brittle, causing the plant to snap off near ground level. 


Chinch bugs overwinter as adults, and become active when warmer temperatures return in spring.  Adults lay eggs in protected crevices of grass plants, most often near the base of the plant.  After about two weeks, chinch bug nymphs hatch from the eggs and begin to feed.  chinch bug bugwood.jpgYoung chinch bugs are yellow or reddish brown with a white band running across the back.  Older nymphs are black, with visible wing buds.  Adults are black with white wings.  Populations of chinch bugs build as the summer progresses.  This makes summer annual forage grasses particularly vulnerable to damage.  There are 2-3 generations per year in Alabama.  This image shows the various stages of the chinch bug, and shows that when you find one chinch bug, you unfortunately usually find a lot more (courtesy Art Cushman, USDA Systematics Entomology Laboratory,

Chinch bugs spend much of their time feeding in protected places on the plant, hiding in cracks in the soil, or hiding under crop debris.  They tend to be worse in dry weather, perhaps because heavy rains can kill chinch bugs.  The rain also closes up many of the cracks and crevices in the soil, leaving fewer places for the chinch bugs to hide.

Once chinch bugs are in an area, they can be hard to get rid of.  Chinch bugs can move from one grass crop to another as the season progresses.  Forage producers who grow winter forage grasses and summer annual forage grasses in close proximity can inadvertently create a haven for chinch bugs by providing a year round habitat.  Chinch bugs also can be an unwelcome side effect for farmers who grow susceptible crops in a continuous conservation tillage system.

Because chinch bugs feed at the base of the plant, in protected locations, they are very difficult to control with insecticides.  You can increase the chance for success by directing a spray application down to the base of the plants, and by using a high gallonage of water per acre (25-35 gpa).  An insecticide application for chinch bugs is most likely to pay off in young corn or sorghum that has been planted in rows.  It is difficult to get insecticides down to the base of a broadcast-seeded crop or a crop with narrow-row spacing.  Insecticide and other pest management recommendations for most crops can be found in ANR-0500-A, Alabama Pest Management Handbook Vol. 1.  Keep in mind that most insecticides have some form of a grazing interval.  This means that livestock need to be removed before the insecticide application, and not allowed back in the field until after the specified grazing interval.  Insecticide seed treatments, if they are available, provide a few weeks of protection from chinch bugs, but cannot provide season-long control.

One solution to chronic chinch bug problems in conservation tillage systems is to temporarily break out of conservation tillage.  Accumulated crop residue can be turned under by deep plowing, giving chinch bugs fewer places to hide.  When the new crop is planted, an insecticide seed treatment or an at-plant insecticide can be used to deter any remaining chinch bugs.  If needed, 1-2 foliar applications of insecticide can be applied post-emergence.  Growers following a mandated conservation tillage program may be able to petition to be allowed to perform this one-time, deep tillage in order to get rid of chinch bugs.

 Chinch bugs feeding is less deleterious in a vigorously growing crop.  Therefore, proper fertilization, timely seeding, good weed control, and irrigation can lessen chinch bug problems.  Use of a crop rotation that includes non-host crops has also been suggested for chinch bug control.  Legumes are not hosts, and may be a good choice for an alternative forage. 


Kathy Flanders, Forage Entomologist,


damage small.jpgDamage from bermudagrass stem maggot was reported from Franklin and Cherokee Counties this week.  Damage had previously been reported from Talladega, Marshall, Shelby, Chilton, Chambers, and Barbour Counties.

Hay producers should check their fields for bermudagrass stems where the top 2-3 leaves are completely dead.  That is a symptom of feeding injury from this pest.  If the hay is almost ready to cut, that is the best option.  Cutting will kill the insects that are developing inside the stem. Seven to 10 days after the hay is cut, the regrowth should be protected by applying an insecticide that will control the adult flies.  Drs. Dennis Hancock and Will Hudson from the University of Georgia have determined that in most cases, the single application should be enough to protect the cutting.

Learn more about how to manage this pest, including some information on the economics involved, from Dr. Hancock's latest Forage Insect Update.
Stay informed of the latest Alabama forage information:

Kathy Flanders


using sweepnet.jpgThis week cattlemen and extension agents  reported finding damaging populations of fall armyworm in hayfields in 4 counties: Pike, Calhoun, Etowah, and Marshall.  It is best to control fall armyworm caterpillars before they have molted into the last and largest size.  The caterpillar consumes about 80% of the food it will eat during the few days it is in this last feeding stage.  Then it burrows into the ground, and transforms itself into a moth and the life cycle starts all over again.  It takes about 30 summer days for a female fall armyworm to develop from an egg to the point where she is ready to lay an egg of her own.  That is why early on, it seems that the reports of fall armyworm damage come in in batches about a month apart, corresponding to a new generation of caterpillars molting into that last feeding stage.  Later in the season, the generations overlap, moths are laying eggs almost every day, and all sizes of fall armyworm caterpillars can be found in a given field.

A sweep net is a good way to find fall armyworms when they are small.  Sweep nets cost about $30-40 and you may eventually decide to buy one.  If you want to try one first, most county offices of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System have a sweep net that you can borrow to look for fall armyworm caterpillars.  Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension agents also have sweep nets you can borrow.  A few cattlemen in almost every county have sweep nets, too.  This video shows how to use a sweep net.  If you find armyworms with a sweep net, follow up by checking to see how many caterpillars are present per square foot.  If you find more than 2 caterpillars per square foot it is probably time to apply an insecticide, cut the hay, or graze the affected forage.

You can find helpful information related to Fall Armyworm underneath the “Fall Armyworm” section of the Forage Insect Pest Management Page on  Bookmark this link for resources on how to look for and control Fall Armyworm in pastures and hayfields.
Check out the latest map showing where damaging populations of fall armyworms have been found in Alabama pastures and hayfields.  Please let me know if you find them so we can keep updating the map.   
Stay informed of the latest Alabama forage crop information by liking the Alabama Forage Focus page on Facebook, or by subscribing to the Alabama IPM Newsletter by visiting
Kathy Flanders


The American Forage and Grassland Council awarded Dr. Don Ball, alumni professor in the Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Soils at Auburn University, the 2015 Distinguished Grasslander Award at its annual conference in St. Louis.

The Distinguished Grasslander Award is presented to individuals who, during their careers, have served the forage and grassland segment of agriculture with distinction.

“My goal has always been to use my time as efficiently and effectively as possible in providing information about forage crops to the public so as to increase profit, enhance lifestyles and protect the environment,” Ball said.

Alabama Extension Director, Dr. Gary Lemme said Ball has made a lasting mark in many areas of Extension research.

“Dr. Ball’s Extension programs and advice have increased the profitability cattle producers and the management of millions of acres of pastures and hay land in the United States,” Lemme said. “Dr. Ball continues to be a role model for modern Extension specialists because of his ability to translate emerging research into everyday management recommendations that can be implemented by farmers and cattle producers.”

Ball began work with Alabama Extension in 1976, when he was hired as the Extension forage crop agronomist. He served in this capacity until January 2011. He is currently a consultant with four Oregon Forage Seed Commissions.

Ball registered the bermudagrass ecotype ‘Russell’ and now there are more than 50,000 acres of this grass in the Southeast. He conducted dozens of on-farm trials, and wrote many popular and technical articles, as well as several national-oriented forage and livestock publications.

In addition to his recent honor, Ball has received many Extension honors during his career: the Auburn University Extension Excellence Award in 1988, the Professional Excellence Award in 1991, the Agronomic Extension Excellence Award in 1993, and the Distinguished Service Award in 1999.​ 

Don With DG Award Plaque.JPG

The Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association (BCIA) named the  2014 recipient of the Outstanding Extension Educator at the 72nd Annual Alabama Cattleman’s Association Conference in Huntsville.

Alabama BCIA recognized Dr. Soren Rodning, Associate Professor and Extension Veterinarian in the Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

The Outstanding Extension Educator Award is presented to recognize and honor an exceptional Extension Educator and their support and implementation of beef cattle performance programs in Alabama.

Rodning’s Extension efforts primarily involve promoting herd health and reproductive management for beef and dairy cattle, with minor emphasis on meat goats, sheep, pigs and horses. His primary research focus is investigating various cattle diseases.

Dr. Rodning has provided 40 invited lectures, has helped organize over 25 Extension programs, provided over 165 Extension presentations, authored or co-authored over 50 Extension publications, newsletters, fact sheets, informational bulletins and training manuals.  In addition, Rodning served as an instructor for BCIA Seedstock Continuing Education Program and for the Master Cattlemen’s Program.

He also currently serves in the Alabama Army National Guard with the 20th Special Forces Group based in Birmingham. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010-2011 with the 358th Medical Detachment of Veterinary Services.

The Alabama BCIA is a non-profit organization seeking to promote, educate and facilitate the use of performance data, record keeping and marketing opportunities to improve the Alabama cattle industry.  Formed in 1964, BCIA cooperates with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System of Auburn University under a formal agreement.

Soren Rodning Outstanding Extension Educator Award.jpg

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