We have had a great hay season this year in Jackson County, with two cuttings.
Now producers must decide whether to wait for a possible third cutting or instead turn to winter grazing.
Winter grazing is dependent on adequate resources, such as fencing, water and enough pasture land.
Stockpiling the fall grass growth can help save winter-feed costs and reduce labor.
Figuring out whether to winter graze requires analyzing pastures to determine possible candidates for stockpiling. Soil samples can be taken now, to send off for expert analysis.
Here is how to establish a stockpiling program on your farm:
Tall fescue is a cool-season perennial grass that can be managed to provide significant grazing during winter months, when other forages are in short supply. Fescue is in semi-dormant condition during much of the summer (June through August).
In late August, it begins to respond to decreasing day length and temperature by increasing its growth rate.
The clear, cool days of autumn stimulate the plant to manufacture and store carbohydrates for the winter period. The primary fall growth phases occur from September through November. Grass produced during these months is some of the best of the year, due to its high carbohydrate concentration.
If proper management is followed, 2,000 to 3,500 pounds of dry matter per acre may be accumulated by mid-November.
Stockpiling refers to management that defers the forage grazing produced during August through November until later, November through February (when grazing is scarce). Depending on the class of animal and the amount of grass stockpiled, part or all of the nutritional requirements of grazing animals can be satisfied.
How long the accumulated grass will last depends on how the grass is allocated to the animal group.
How to graze
Use an electric fence with a strip-grazing technique to ration the grass to the animals. If a daily feed allocation is offered by allowing animals to line up along a temporary polywire fence, 70- to 80-percent utilization of the forage can be achieved. This is true because very little of the fresh pasture becomes fouled with manure and urine before the cattle attempt to graze it.
Since the growth rate of fescue is very low (about 5 pounds per day) from late November until late February, you don’t have to worry about regrowth or “back fencing” cattle off the pasture area just grazed. Simply move the fence forward. This is also helpful in providing access to water.
A few simple assumptions and a little trial and error can get you started. Select the area to be used for stockpiling well before the beginning of the accumulation period.
Stage-back the pasture to mid-August to early September by removing any excess growth above 3 inches that accumulated over the summer by grazing or mowing for hay.
After stage-back, top-dress 50 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre on the pasture and close it to grazing. Pastures will accumulate growth at the rate of about 15 to 35 pounds of dry matter per acre per day during the accumulation period (August through December).
Graze all other pasture on the farm (especially warm-season grasses) before beginning to graze the stockpiled growth. About a half-acre of stockpiled grass per animal unit will provide about 60 to 90 days of grazing. Use an electric fence to strictly allocate pasture feed according to predetermined nutritional requirements.
Producers can rent temporary fencing through Jackson Extension. To learn more, call 586-4009.
Rob Hawk is the director of the Jackson County Cooperative Extension Service. Some of the information in this column came from McDowell County Cooperative Extension.