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Extending grazing

Jim Morrison Published on 16 September 2009

Since stored feed is almost two or three times more expensive per animal or per day than pasture, extending the grazing season is one way to reduce the need for stored feed.

One way to extend the grazing season is by stockpiling or deferred grazing. Stockpiling can be defined as the managed accumulation of vegetative forage growth that will be used at a later time. Commonly, stockpiling is done to extend grazing into the late fall and winter.

Nearly any forage can be stockpiled, but tall fescue is the species most widely used. Stockpiled tall fescue not only has good forage quality, but it maintains this quality very well into the winter.

The following steps have proven successful for stockpiling tall fescue.

• About 60 to 90 days before the end of the growing season, clip or graze pastures, leaving 3 to 5 inches of forage growth.

• Immediately after this clipping or grazing, apply 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

• Defer grazing of stockpiled tall fescue until late fall or early winter. For example, if the pasture was clipped on August 1, allow forage growth to accumulate until at least October 1 or later. Be sure to properly use forage growth in other pastures before beginning to use stockpiled forage.

• If possible, stockpile one acre per cow. Under normal conditions this will give a 75-to-90-day feed supply if grazed properly.

Although low-quality, highly perishable material such as crop residues, should be used first, once the use of stockpiled fescue has begun, start with the highest-quality stockpiled fescue forage. This is because weathering causes more value loss in high-quality material than in low-quality material.

In summary, one way to lower winter feeding costs is by stockpiling and the date to begin that strategy is here.

—Excerpts from University of Illinois news release

Jim Morrison
Extension Educator
University of Illinois