Don’t Miss this Fescue Opportunity

Kassidy Buse, Hay and Forage Grower summer editorial intern
(Previously published in Hay & Forage Grower: September 4, 2018)

The cost of feed is the highest expense on any operation, specifically when winter feeding. Producers typically utilize hay to meet [livestock] nutritional requirements during the winter, but producing hay with a high enough forage quality to meet those needs proves to be a challenge.

Chris Teutsch, forage extension specialist at the University of Kentucky, argues that stockpiled tall fescue is an option that has a higher nutritional value to meet [some winter livestock] needs. He provides helpful steps to optimize stockpiled tall fescue in the Kentucky newsletter Off the Hoof.

“Choose a strong tall fescue sod in a field that is well drained,” Teutsch starts.

A healthy stand will lead to improved yield response to nitrogen application. Good drainage will ensure that stockpiled forages can be grazed without substantial hoof damage during the wetter months.

Before applying nitrogen, clip pastures to 3 – 4 inches; this removes old growth and boosts the forage quality of the stockpiled grass.

In late August to mid-September, apply 60 – 80 lbs. of nitrogen per acre.

“Applying nitrogen too early can stimulate warm-season grass growth in pastures, while applying it too late lowers dry matter yield,” Teutsch explains. He also advises to drop the rate to 60 pounds per acre when applying in mid-September.

Don’t graze until mid-December to allow time for growth to accumulate. If needed, feed hay during late summer and fall.

Since legumes lose quality at a faster rate than grasses, graze stockpiled pastures that contain legumes first to minimize losses.

To maximize grazing days, strip graze the tall fescue. “Ideally, allocating only enough stockpiled grass for 2 – 3 days will increase grazing days per acre by 30 – 40 percent,” Teusch elaborates.

Get a jump-start on future grazing by frost seeding legumes on grazed areas. Broadcast the seed as the pasture is grazed. This practice can enhance soil-to-seed contact and improve establishment success.