Winter feed bills are one of the largest expenses of a livestock operation, but winter feed costs can be reduced with some action now, said David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Because southern Arkansas has been so dry, early September is still a good time to act. Producers can stockpile warm season grasses, plant cool season annuals or both, he said.
Think of stockpiling warm season grasses as making hay without cutting and baling it. The grass will cure naturally in the field, and the livestock can eat it where it grows. Labor costs are reduced because it does not have to cut, baled or hauled to and from the barn. Instead, the livestock harvest it for you, said Fernandez.
To stockpile, clip pastures to about 2-3 inches, and fertilize with 50-60 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Allow the grass to grow until late October.
When livestock have eaten all the available summer forages, strip graze the stockpiled forage. Place a temporary electric fence across the stockpiled forage, and allow the animals to eat. As livestock eat down the forage, move the fence to allow them access to more forage.
Allowing them access to only a portion of the stockpiled forage at a time reduces waste from trampling and manure. Also, animals do not have to be backfenced out of the area they have already grazed. The grasses are dormant and will not be harmed by additional grazing or hoof traffic, said Fernandez.
Cool season annuals can be seeded into pastures to extend the grazing season even further. Annual rye grass or small grains, such as winter wheat, can be no-till drilled or broadcast and harrowed in after a light disking. Planting in southern Arkansas pastures can begin in mid-October when warm season grasses go dormant. This is important, said Fernandez, because warm season grasses will choke out cool season annual seedlings if they are still actively growing, and the cool season stand will fail to grow.
Cool season pastures can be used in late fall or early winter. Once the stockpiled forage is gone, move the animals to the cool season annual pasture. The greatest advantage to cool season annuals is in the early spring when they grow rapidly to provide plenty of high quality forage before warm season grasses break dormancy.
Cool season annuals are very nutritious. Livestock can become too fat if they are allowed continuous access to high quality cool season annual pastures. Their access may have to be limited. Provide some lower quality hay on which they can fill up. Once the weather warms and warm season grasses begin growing, mow, spray or graze down the cool season annuals so the warm season gasses can grow.
Start stockpiling in September, and ready cool season pastures in October, advises Fernandez. Using stockpiled forages and cool season annuals can greatly reduce feed costs and improve livestock nutrition thus reducing costs and increasing performance. Labor costs for harvesting, storing and feeding hay will be lower.