Time to stockpile forages for late autumn and winter grazing

It is time to start stockpiling late summer and early autumn growth of forages for grazing in the late autumn and winter.  The practice of allowing forage to accumulate rather than grazing it or making it into hay has great potential to extend the grazing season and reduce winter feeding costs.  Once other pastures are fully utilized by the end of the growing season stockpiled  pastures can be efficiently grazed using temporary electric fence, a practice that stretches many more grazing days from a pasture than is possible with uncontrolled access. 

Yearling steers grazing stockpiled tall fescue in North Carolina in February.

Any forage crop can be stockpiled, and in our area farmers stockpile bermudagrass, mixed warm season pastures (crabgrass, dallisgrass, etc.), tall fescue, and even some summer annuals.  While all these can work, tall fescue is the premier stockpiling plant as it deteriorates very slowly under normal winter conditions.  Even in February across the fescue belt, stockpiled tall fescue will usually meet the nutritional requirements of a lactating cow with a moderate level of milk production.  The other forages need to be used in Autumn or early winter, while tall fescue can be saved for the late winter.

Regardless of where you are in our region, September 1 is a good date to remember in regards to stockpiling.  Areas to the north (Missouri, West Virginia, etc.) or at high elevation will want to start stockpiling before that date (August 1-15) while August 15 to September 15 is perfect for much of the central part of the fescue belt.  In more southern regions like the Piedmont of NC, you can wait until September 15 to start accumulation.  The goal is the get at least 60 days of good growth so there is a substantial amount of forage accumulated.  If you delay stockpiling the resulting forage will have higher nutritive value, but there will not be as much of it.

Usually there is a recommendation for adding nitrogen at the start of the stockpiling season.  For tall fescue and bermudagrass most advisors now recommend 50 lbs of nitrogen per acre.  Some of our recent research evaluated nitrogen response in tall fescue-based pastures stockpiled from September 1 until December 1.   There were research plots on 92 individual fields on farms ranging from Georgia to West Virginia.  On many farms there was little response to adding nitrogen, especially on older pastures where soil test biological activity was high due to the use of rotational grazing management.  Some newly established or low management pastures did show a response to nitrogen.  If you have been practicing adaptive grazing for a long time you might consider not putting out nitrogen on some pastures to see how much grass you can grow without it.  For more information on that research see:  https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/agj2.20153

While there is nothing we can do that makes more sense than stockpiling forages for later grazing, many farmers don’t use the practice because pastures are literally exhausted by overgrazing during summer, and don’t make as much autumn growth as they could.  To stockpile you need to plan ahead so you can clip or graze the pasture in late summer and then keep the livestock totally off them for at least a few months.  We have many farmers that choose to feed some hay during the month of October and/or November to allow pastures to stockpile.  Also, reducing your stocking rate some will help you have more total available forage on the farm, and that will help you get more out of stockpiling.

Our research with stockpiling novel endophyte tall fescue has shown that novel varieties stockpile just as well as Kentucky-31, and the stands can take the beating that is expected during grazing in wet weather in the winter. 

If you have never stockpiled forage for winter grazing I encourage you to give it a try.  Choose a field where it makes sense and get off it about September 1 ( plus or minus depending on your location).  Apply nitrogen unless you know you have very good nutrient cycling in your pastures.  Then, get a few reels and temporary posts ready so you can strip-graze the accumulated forages.  Once a farmer starts this it is usually a practice that they continue, and their focus on strip-grazing during winter carries over into better grazing practices the rest of the year as well.

To read about one Virginia farmer’s experience with stockpiling tall fescue go to: https://vaforages.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/What-to-Expect-When-Stockpiling-and-Strip-Grazing-Tall-Fescue.pdf

~ Matt Poore, NSCU

The Alliance for Grassland Renewal is a national organization focused on enhancing the appropriate adoption of novel endophyte tall fescue technology through education, incentives, self-regulation and promotion.  For more resources or to learn more about the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, go to www.grasslandrenewal.org

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