Winter Grazing – How and When to Stockpile Tall Fescue

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

Would you like to be able to reduce your winter hay feeding bill? If so and if you have a pasture that has a large percentage of tall fescue, why not consider stockpiling the tall fescue to winter graze. Depending on fall weather conditions, tall fescue stand density, stocking rate for grazing, and the type of grazing system employed, a grazer can get an extra 6 to 8 or possibly more weeks of grazing starting in early December.

What is involved in the process of stockpiling tall fescue? The first thing to do is to stop any grazing or hay harvesting on the selected pasture and then to apply from 50 to 70 lbs. of nitrogen (N) per acre as soon as possible but between August 15 and September 1. Grazing of the pasture should not begin again until late-November or December whenever the other pastures become depleted of feed.

The applied N fertilizer should be a quick release form such as urea or ammonium sulfate rather than a slow release form such as manure, other organic sources, or polymer coated urea. The use of a nitrification and/or urease inhibitor is useful especially with the history of heavy rainfall so far this growing season (2013). Products designed to reduce N loss from leaching and/or denitrification include nitrapyrin (N-serve®), SuperU®, agrotain®, or agrotainplus®. These products do slow the conversion of N from urea to ammonium or from ammonium to nitrate but the activity is limited to one to two weeks and do not interfere with the uptake of N by the tall fescue crop. They help prevent the environmental loss of N and therefore help increase plant uptake and promote more top growth.

A second application of 30 to 50 lbs. N/acre is suggested from early or mid-October to early November to help increase the protein content of the stockpiled tall fescue, possibly increase the total yield produced, and to encourage more and deeper rooting of the tall fescue for next year’s production. It is thought that late-fall N may help tall fescue plants lay down tillers that will help thicken the fescue stand next year.

When the available forage in the remaining pastures becomes too little to support the grazing animals, the accumulated tall fescue forage can be grazed. Palatability really increases following some hard frosts or freezes so we generally recommend that grazing not begin until December. The freezing process is thought to release or convert carbohydrates to simple sugars which encourages the grazing animals to select the fescue and consume it readily. If the accumulated fescue pasture can be grazed in strips to limit animal access to the forage, there will be substantially less wasted forage. The use of moveable fences (usually electric) so that just a day or a few days’ supply of forage is provided each time the fence is moved really helps extend the number of grazing days you can have from the stockpiled fescue.

Like any grazing system, if the weather is too wet, animals should be kept either inside or in a sacrifice holding lot and fed hay rather than allowed onto a pasture where their hoofs can cause compaction problems or tear up the forage stand.

Stockpiling tall fescue is an effective way to extend the grazing season and stretch hay supplies. The rainy and often unpredictable weather this year has made hay production very difficult and good quality hay likely will be in short supply and only found at a high cost. With the expense of a little money for N fertilizer and the time and effort of moving fences, a grazer can significantly reduce their feed cost.

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