Why set aside pastures
Sep 08, 2013
It’s once again time to start checking out your stockpiled forages that you will be turning your cattle onto in possibly the next few weeks. Up here in North East PA we’ve already had frost! I don’t know why this surprises me, we can usually expect an early season frost up here anytime after Labor Day, but it still surprises me when it happens in between day’s where the afternoon temperatures still reach well into the 80’s.
You might wonder why we set aside pastures or paddocks starting in early August to "stock pile" forages, when we could be feeding our animals with it?
Every 30 days of grazing stockpiled forage provides a co$t $aving$ that is practically equivalent to increasing your calving rate by 8-10%! 30 days of winter feed is usually the minimum producers can expect from stockpiling forages like Tall fescue in the Southeast if both new growth and subsequent grazing are well managed. Further North (like where we’re located in North/East PA), stockpiled forages offer 2,000-2,500 lbs. of forage on a dry matter basis. With fertilizer, production can be increased by 1,000-1,500 lbs./acre. This is for forages such as tall fescue and/or orchardgrass mixed with legumes like Red/White Clover or Alfalfa. Letting cows harvest the forage (rather than making hay out of it), and then feeding it to them, is where the obvious savings occur especially now that Diesel is on the rise AGAIN!
Stockpiled forages also provide flexibility.
One stockpiling advantage is it assures grasses will be replenishing and storing carbohydrate root reserves during the critical fall period, which will build stronger root systems. If the grass to be stockpiled is Tall fescue, this may be the best use for it. Cattle that reluctantly graze fescue in August and September find fescue in November & December to be very palatable. In addition, fescue will maintain its forage quality and tonnage better than other cool-season pasture grasses throughout the winter.
The key is to start "from scratch". Either by grazing the pasture to the recommended minimum height, mowing a last cutting of hay or brush hogging the forage to a consistent height. In the Southeast the chief stockpiling strategy for tall fescue is to fertilize pastures from mid August to early September. Apply 40-50 lbs./acre of nitrogen. Apply the same rate of N for Bermuda grass 6-8 weeks before the first expected frost. If a tall-fescue pasture contains 35-40% legumes, extra nitrogen isn't required. If legume levels are less than that, apply up to 50 lbs./acre of N. The later in the season you begin stockpiling, the less forage you will grow, but the quality of it will be better.
Just turning cattle out to graze stockpiled forages may only utilize 30-40% of the stands.
50-60% utilization may be accomplished with rotational grazing, 65-75% with "frontal grazing".
"Frontal grazing" is when you start your cattle in the part of pasture where water is available and move the grazing front further from the water every few days. Allow cattle enough forage for 3-4 days and then move the fences. That will almost double the amount of utilization you can get.
When pastures contain legumes "flash grazing" can also increase utilization. "Flash Grazing" is when you allow your cattle to graze long enough to utilize the legumes (which they consume quickest), then pull them back off until you're ready to utilize the grass stockpiled there.
If one of your goals is maintaining the sod in your pastures/paddocks (and it should be), you have to be concerned about crowding it too tightly and you may need to remove cattle from the pasture during a muddy period such as what we’ve been dealing with in the North/East since last April!
In the North/East, most producers will delay grazing stockpiled forage until at least the end of October. Many can graze it into December. Making the decision to stockpile forage is about balance. There's the balance between available forage and the nutritional needs of cattle, as well as balance between management goals, resources and alternative strategies.
Measure What You Have
Measure your pastures forages canopy height at various locations within the pasture with a grazing stick that you can obtain through your local NRCS or FSA office. They are yardsticks that also include numeric tables with a range of estimates for pounds of dry matter (DM) per acre inch based upon the stand's density. If you’ve never seen someone use one before it saves ALOT of frustration on the part of the producer if you/they ask someone at the NRCS/FSA Office (the Grazing Specialist if one is available), to show you how to use the information on the stick.
NOW GET OUT THERE AND GRAZE!!