When it comes to livestock and crops, planning ahead always makes sense. This is especially true for grazing operations. Advanced planning in late summer allows you to come up with a strategy for stockpiling a portion of perennial pastures.
The ideal way to stockpile forage is to let existing perennial pastures grow into early fall. The cool temperatures allow for high-quality forage to accumulate after a period of growth. While it is true that there are several options to plant new annuals, extending grazing season more cost-efficient and allows producers to feed the same number of animals even when forage growth isn’t as rampant.
Experts advise grazing or cutting pastures to about 3 inches stubble height to prepare for stockpiling. The next step is to apply nitrogen. Stockpiled forage will retain its quality into the fall. In fact, research has shown that when tall fescue is stockpiled it can carry dry cows through the winter and lactating beef cows into the new year – without the need for added supplements. Growing cattle may require energy supplementation, however, especially if toxic fall fescue is used.
To get all that you can from stockpiled forage in the fall and winter, rotationally graze paddocks or strip or frontal graze by allotting a new strip of stockpiled forage every one to three days. This will double the carrying capacity of stockpiled pastures and forage use will be maximized.
Tall fescue is the best forage for stockpiling. It is able to accumulate fall growth without losing quality – even during repeated frosts without. Research has reported yields of up to 1.5 tons of dry matter per acre in areas where tall fescue was stockpiled successfully. It is important to note, however, that such high yields only occur if nitrogen is applied right after the last cutting or grazing.
Bermudagrass, where it is adapted, also is a good option for stockpiling. Bermudagrass is more sensitive to late-season growing conditions than tall fescue, however, so yields aren’t as dependable. The most growth will take place when temperatures remain warmer.
At the onset of stockpiling, experts suggest applying approximately 55 pounds of nitrogen. When conditions are right, bermudagrass can provide up to 1.5 tons of stockpiled dry matter per acre. Even with its variability, bermudagrass can be an good resource for forage.
Hay isn’t cheap – especially this year. So anything that can be done to extend the grazing season is well worth the effort.