Stockpiling Pasture

Rory Lewandowski, OSU Extension Educator, Wayne County

Stockpiling pasture gives livestock owners the option to extend the grazing season into the late fall and winter period.  Stockpiling simply means let forage growth accumulate for later use.  The general recommendation here in Ohio is to take a last cutting, clipping or grazing pass in early to mid-August and then let the pastures regrow and accumulate forage until the end of the growing season.  Stockpiling research and on-farm trials results have shown this timing is the best compromise, amassing a substantial quantity while retaining an acceptable quality of forage stockpiled. Beginning earlier can result in more tonnage but lower quality, while beginning later results in higher quality forage, but reduced total tonnage.  Obviously a key component of stockpiling involves rainfall so that grass is able to grow.  Due to our high temperatures and lack of rainfall most pastures were not growing and were dormant until the widespread rainfall in Wayne County and surrounding areas the weekend of August 13-14.  So this year our stockpiling opportunity didn’t begin until mid-August.  However, even beginning stockpiling in the mid to late August period can produce over a ton/acre of accumulated dry matter by the end of the growing season.

Tall fescue is the best grass to stockpile, especially for late winter grazing, because it holds its forage quality value better than other forage grasses. Other pasture grasses, such as orchardgrass, can be stockpiled, but need to be managed so that they are grazed off by early winter.   Legumes such as red clover and alfalfa are not well suited to stockpiling because they lose their leaves after a couple of hard frosts, so they are best utilized in a grazing system in the early fall period.

Variables that influence the success of stockpiling are rainfall as previously mentioned, and nitrogen fertilization.  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.   Nitrogen applied in the late August to early September time period can return 15-20 lbs. of additional stockpiled dry matter (DM) per lb. of nitrogen.

Stockpiling offers the opportunity to reduce winter feeding costs.  The highest cost of raising an animal or maintaining a flock or herd through the winter is the cost of using stored feed.  In most situations you just can’t beat the cost of livestock out harvesting and eating their own feed compared to the fertilizer, machinery, and labor costs associated with making, storing and then feeding hay.  Use your hay as a tool to help you stockpile.

I believe there is merit to feeding first cut hay during the stockpiling time period.  There are a couple of advantages to doing so.  First, stockpiling allows that paddock to recover from any overgrazing that occurred during the season and allows those pasture plants to build carbohydrate reserves during the critical fall period.  Second, feeding first cut hay at this time usually matches up forage quality with livestock nutritional needs better than winter/spring feeding of first cut hay.  Often first cutting hay made for non-dairy livestock is low quality.  Feeding this low quality hay anytime from August to November while pastures are stockpiling is going to come closer to meeting early gestation nutrient requirements as compared to feeding that hay 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.  Meanwhile, stockpiled fescue, especially if some nitrogen has been applied, could supply15% crude protein hay and better from November to December and 13-15% crude protein forage from January-March.  This stockpiled forage is generally higher quality than first cutting hay and about equal to a lot of 2nd cutting hay made for non-dairy livestock.