It’s Not Too Late to Plan for Fall & Winter Grazing

– Chris Penrose, Dave Samples, Clif Little, OSU Extension Agents

As autumn approaches and we are starting to get an idea on our winter feed supplies and the number of animals we want to keep into next year, it is a good time to assess the quality and amount of forages that will be needed. For many, corn and purchased hay can be a reasonable option, depending on local availability. For others, there is still time to stock pile pasture or hay fields, and plant turnips and winter rye for fall and winter grazing.

Stockpiling fescue and orchardgrass will cost the least money and require the least effort to extend forage supplies. Initiating the stockpiling (make the last clip or grazing) can be anytime through September. As a rule of thumb, the earlier you start (don’t start before the middle of July), the more you will have, but the lower the quality. The opposite is also true: the later you start, the higher the quality, but a lower yield. The addition of 50 pounds of nitrogen when stockpiling begins will result in a 1000-2000 pound increase in yields. The only exception to this rule is where substantial amounts of clover are in the stand. Research shows little response to N application where the stand consists of more than 40% red clover.

The final results of stockpiling will be up to two tons of dry matter per acre, which will be available November through February. Quality can slowly drop after Thanksgiving then a little faster through February, but will usually be still good enough for a brood cow or ewe in good condition. Research conducted at OARDC Jackson Branch indicates that orchardgrass protein can remain 12% into February, but yields will fall off rapidly after prolonged cold temperatures, but fescue yields will hold up better.

Turnips and other brassicas are also options to extend the grazing season. Most turnip cultivars need to be planted from mid July through early August. Although it is starting to get late to plant turnips, the cultivar that will do the best when planted late is our garden type purple top turnip. Most cultivars need 60 days to reach maximum quality and 90 days to reach maximum yield. In studies in Southeast Ohio, purple top turnips reached maturity almost two weeks prior to other cultivars.

Several producers have mentioned how well turnips work when they are planning to renovate a field, because they can get an extra crop of turnips in the winter, prior to spring planting. Some have even broadcasted wheat or winter rye in October and has a crop the next spring. Ed Ballad, Extension Specialist in Illinois, has demonstrated that in Illinois turnips, oats and winter rye can be successfully broadcasted over standing crops such as soybeans prior to harvest for winter grazing.

To get a good crop of turnips, all you need is two pounds of seed per acre, fifty pounds of nitrogen, seed to soil contact, and rain to get the crop started. No-till and conventional seed beds both work. This is a crop that can produce 10,000 pounds of dry matter in ninety days with tops around 16% protein and bulbs around 9%. Brassicas are very low in fiber, so consider supplementing hay or stockpiled forages to improve utilization. The crop should remain available to livestock until temperatures fall below 15 degrees.

Winter rye is another option that can produce a high quality crop for grazing in December and March. What makes this such an attractive options is that it is very high in quality and is the first to green up in the spring. This is a good option for livestock with high nutritional needs such as overwintering stocker calves. Winter rye can be planted from the middle of August through the middle of September at 90-100 pounds of seed per acre. When rye is 2-4 inches tall, 50-75 pounds of nitrogen will stimulate growth and additional applications in early March will increase production.

Any of these crops can stretch feed supplies and keep costs down, especially when stripped grazed with an electric fence. OSU Extension has fact sheets available on each of these crops which are available at your local extension office or on the web at: Ask or look for “Stockpiling Tall Fescue for Winter Grazing,” AGF-023; “Brassicas for Forages,” AGF-020; or “Winter Rye to Extend the Grazing,” AGR-026.