Incorporating stockpiled fescue into the winter-feeding program

– Dr. Katie VanValin, Assistant Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

It might seem a little pre-mature to be talking about the winter-feeding program, when just last week we experienced the hottest temperatures of the summer thus far. However, if you are considering taking advantage of stockpiled fescue this winter, the time to start this process in now! Due to the ergot alkaloid producing endophyte it possesses, tall fescue can often get a bit of a bad reputation. However, one of the places that this forage can really shine is in its ability to be stockpiled which results in a good source of nutrients to be grazed during late fall and early winter (assuming things like soil fertility and rain fall are adequate).

Often, stockpiled tall fescue can provide greater amounts of protein and energy compared to grass-hay. This means that stockpiling tall fescue can be a means of decreasing hay requirements while also lessening costs associated with supplemental feed. To get the greatest return on the investment in stockpiling fescue, it is important to make sure that the right animals get access to this valuable feed resource. The nutrient requirements of cattle are not stagnant throughout their life or even throughout the calendar year. Thus, the goal should be to allow those animals with increased nutrient requirements during the late fall and early winter to have access to stockpiled fescue. Luckily, stockpiled fescue can fit nicely into both spring and fall calving herds.

Spring calving herds: Stockpiled fescue can be an excellent option for thin spring calving cows. It is well documented, that thin cows (BCS ≤ 4) have decreased reproductive performance, and the best time to try and put condition back on these cows is during the period from weaning to calving. This is when the cow’s nutrient requirements are the lowest, thus, more of the nutrients she is consuming will be available for improving BCS. For spring calving cows, this period coincides nicely with the availability of stockpiled fescue.

Fall calving herds: Stockpiled fescue can be utilized to meet the high nutrient requirements of lactating fall calving cows. It is important to make sure that cows remain in adequate BCS during the period from calving to breeding, and stockpiled fescue is an excellent option to decrease supplemental feed costs associated with maintaining lactating cows during the late fall and early winter.

Growing cattle: Stockpiled fescue can also be utilized for growing cattle, however depending on what the targeted ADG is for these animals, supplementation may still be required. However, if a greater proportion of the nutrients required to support growth can come from stockpiled fescue vs. what could be supplied by feeding grass-hay, supplemental feed costs can still be decreased.

If stockpiling fescue is something that might work in your production system, please refer to the University of Kentucky extension publication AGR- 162: Stockpiling for fall and winter pastures for more information about producing stockpiled fescue.