– Rory Lewandowski, OSU Extension Educator, Wayne County
For those livestock producers that are pasture based, August management can determine what, if any, extended season grazing will be done in the late fall to winter months. There are two main options that can be used to extend the grazing season; stockpiling perennial forages and/or planting cool season annual forages.
Stockpiling forage is the most economical option to extend the grazing season. Stockpiling is simply the process of letting a pasture paddock or hay field grow and accumulate growth that will be grazed at a later date. When the goal is to extend the grazing season the stockpiling period lasts until the end of the growing season. Based on Ohio research, the recommendation is to take the last grazing pass or hay harvest sometime between the first and 15th of August. In some cases the pasture paddock is clipped back to a 4 inch height to re-set it for stockpiling. This August timeframe represents the best compromise between quantity of forage stockpiled and quality of forage stockpiled. Beginning earlier can result in more tonnage but quality will be lower, while beginning later will result in higher quality forage, but lower total tonnage accumulated.
Tall fescue is our best stockpiling option, especially for late winter grazing, because it holds its forage quality value better than other grass species such as orchardgrass. That is not to say that orchardgrass can’t be stockpiled because it can. It just needs to be managed so that it is grazed in the fall through early winter period. Legumes, especially alfalfa and red clover can be stockpiled as well but after a couple of hard frosts they are prone to losing their leaves, so they should be used earlier rather than later.
Nitrogen fertilization can increase both the quality and the quantity of the forage being stockpiled. Research results from a southeastern Ohio location showed that applying nitrogen increased the crude protein content of stockpiled fescue by an average of 2 to 3 percentage points as compared to the unfertilized fescue across late fall and into winter. Nitrogen applied to tall fescue in the early to mid-August time period should return 20 to 30 lbs. of additional stockpiled dry matter (DM) per lb. of nitrogen as compared to stockpiled fescue without supplemental nitrogen. The caveat here is that there must be enough rainfall to keep forage growing so that the nitrogen is actually used for plant growth. So far this year rainfall has not been limiting, but this is one of the primary risk factors in determining whether or not stockpiling is successful.
Obviously planning is important to make stockpiling work. It may involve taking pasture paddocks out of a late summer grazing rotation. If pasture is limited, feeding hay during the stockpiling time period may be necessary. To those meat animal producers let me just say that it is ok to feed hay before the snow flies. In fact, setting aside some pastures to stockpile and feeding hay while grass grows has several benefits. First, stockpiling some pastures will allow pastures to recover from any overgrazing that occurred during the season and those pastures will build carbohydrate reserves during the critical fall period. Second, this system will probably match up first cutting hay quality with livestock nutritional needs better than if that first cutting hay was fed during the winter. First cutting hay is generally of low quality because grass plants mature quickly during the spring and are usually cut after seedhead formation. Another factor is that often in addition to cutting late, first cutting hay gets rained on. Feeding this low quality hay anytime from August to November is going to come closer to meeting early gestation nutrient requirements as compared to feeding it in late winter/early spring when the animal is in late gestation or, in some cases, early lactation and needs a higher level of nutrient intake.
The second option to extend the grazing season is to plant cool season annual forages. Some species that have been used very successfully for this purpose include oats, cereal rye, and turnips. Mixtures also work well, particularly something like oats and forage peas or cereal rye and turnips. The disadvantage to using annuals is the cost of establishment. The best economic returns for grazing occur when these crops are planted before mid-August because this allows 2 to 3 tons of dry matter to accumulate by the end of the growing season, again provided that there is adequate moisture. Cool season annuals as cover crops and forages will be a part of the Manure Science Review (MSR) program at Rupp Vue farm on August 14. For more information about MSR see the article that follows.