Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952
Stockpiling forage is one way to extend the grazing season and minimize winter hay feeding. Tall Fescue is renowned for stockpiling because of its inherent ability to maintain high levels of nutrients during the winter months. Stockpiling fescue in the fall is fairly simple. First, the designated area is mowed or grazed down to three to four inches in late July to early August. If the stand is relatively uniform, some choose to apply 40 to 100 lbs of nitrogen to improve forage growth. Then, grazing is deferred to allow the forage to accumulate until late fall/early winter when other available forage becomes limiting. It is strip grazed until the target residual is achieved when forage is 2 to 3 inches tall. It is not grazed again until new growth occurs next spring. Properly fertilized stockpiled tall fescue will usually maintain 10 to 14% crude protein and 55 to 65% TDN, with quality declining from November through February. As fescue leaves turn from green to brown, nutrition from the plant decreases thus grazing earlier in the winter is recommended.
Grazing management will be the determining factor for efficient use of stockpiled forages. If strip grazed, the amount of forage lost to trampling and defecation will be minimal and you will be able to graze longer into the winter without feeding hay. Animals will often consume up to 70% of available forage by strip grazing.
Strip grazing is achieved by allocating just enough standing forage to meet the intake of the animals for a short period of time, usually less than three days. Using temporary fencing, a small strip of pasture is fenced off resulting in less selectivity and more uniform grazing. The fence is then moved forward providing access to new standing forage as well as the previous strip. Being that the only tool needed for strip grazing is a temporary fence, strip grazing is cost effective. A temporary fencing system is comprised of an electric fence charger, a reel of electric fence, tape, or wire, and a few step-in posts. Also, cattle should have access to a water source and mineral feeder.
In order to determine the amount of forage to include in a strip, one must know how much forage is available. The amount of accumulated stockpiled forage varies with location, rainfall, and the amount of nitrogen applied. Tools, such as a grazing stick or falling plate meter, can be used to determine forage quantity. Refer to the publications listed at the end of this article for more information on determining the amount of forage available for grazing. The quantity of stockpiled fescue may average around 3000 lb of dry matter per acre. A 1,400 lb cow may consume 30 to 35 lbs of forage dry matter/day. Accounting for a 70% utilization rate with strip grazing, 3,000 lbs of dry matter per acre would last 40 cows about one and a half days and giving two acres would provide enough forage for approximately three days. If the forage appears limiting by day two, provide a new strip and adjust your assessment of available forage and utilization to ensure cows are offered enough forage.
As long as stockpiled forage is available, hay will not need to be fed unless there is deep snow cover. Snow depth of six inches or more would be considered a deep cover. Cattle will pick through a few inches of snow for access to pasture. However, keep in mind that even ¼ inch of ice on forage may prevent grazing and forage supplementation will be needed.
In summary, stockpiled fescue is an effective way to extend the grazing season and reduce winter hay feeding. Strip grazing stockpiled fescue reduces waste from trampling and defecation and will extend the length of time grazing a particular field. It is cost effective and simple to use. The amount of forage available and number of days of grazing will vary from year to year due to weather conditions, and should be considered when planning and implementing stockpiled fescue into a grazing system.AGR 191: Using a Grazing Stick for Pasture Management
Cattle grazing stockpiled fescue next to an electric temporary fence. Photo credit: Garry Lacefield.