Many livestock producers can take advantage of late summer and fall growing conditions to obtain high-quality pasture for fall and early winter grazing. This practice is called hoarding. Management decisions for optimal stocking include selection of grass species, timing, fertilization, grazing management or use, selection of livestock classes, and designing grazing systems for effective use.
The best grass for storage is cool-season grass that will retain its green color and forage quality later in the winter. In addition, the grass must be somewhat resistant to low temperatures and have the ability to establish a good turfgrass. In Kentucky, there are two types of adaptive grasses that have these characteristics: tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Tall fescue produces more fall and winter growth than bluegrass but bluegrass will produce higher quality forage than fescue.
The best time to start storage is late July and early August for fall and winter use. Remove livestock in late July or early August, apply necessary fertilizer, and let the grass accumulate growth until November or December. Be sure to remove summer growth to 3 to 4 inches by grazing or mowing so that stock production comes from regrowth of new grass. During the storage period, from August 1 to November 1, other available forages such as Sudanese sorghum hybrid, Sudan grass, Bermuda grass, Lespedeza grass, and clover grass should be used. After a frost, clover and clover growth should be grazed first before moving to grass fields.
A soil test should be performed to determine the phosphorus, potassium and lime needed. Nitrogen should be applied at a rate of 40 to 60 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre on bluegrass and 40 to 100 pounds on tall fescue. When N was applied on August 15 and the crop was taken in December, Kentucky researchers showed that bluegrass fertilized with 45 pounds of nitrogen per acre had a yield increase of 20 pounds of dry matter per pound of nitrogen applied. In the same study, tall fescue showed greater nitrogen use efficiency with 24.4 pounds of dry matter produced per pound of nitrogen applied. Additional studies have shown that the greatest yield increases occur when N application occurs shortly after August 1. Nitrogen applications before August 1 may encourage the growth of summer grasses such as crabgrass and foxtail and thus reduce the production of bluegrass and tall fescue. The nitrogen source will also affect N utilization. Urea can be 79 to 89% as effective as ammonium nitrate on a nitrogen equivalent basis. These studies show that with judicious application and timing of fertilizers, high production can be obtained during the fall and early winter. The sugar content and digestibility of tall fescue is also better during fall and early winter than any other time of the year.
Stored forages are best used after a frost. Be sure to graze grass and legume fields quickly before the plants deteriorate. After these fields are grazed, the stored fields or grass fields should be grazed. Light storage will cause a lot of waste from trampling. To make the most of high-quality forage in stocked fields, install a temporary electric fence across the field to divide it so that the area to be grazed first has a source of water and access to well-selected minerals. Once the animals have grazed this area, move the fence back, opening a new strip. Repeat this system until the entire field is grazed.
Stock grass is an excellent choice for cows calving in the fall. It can be used after birth and during the breeding season when their nutritional needs are greatest. Spring-calving cows may benefit more from grazing on stored grasses if they are in lean body condition in the fall. They can recover while grazing and are in better condition heading into winter. Mid-pregnancy spring calves that are in good body condition may not need high quality forage and may use lower quality forage. Overconditioning cows in late pregnancy may result in excessive birth weight for their calves. Weaned cattle can also be grazed on stocked fescue. Backyarders can reduce feed costs for their operations through the use of stock grasses.
The high quality of stored tall fescue produces good gains for both weaned and mature cattle. These gains are in response to the higher crude protein content and easier digestibility of tall fescue’s fall growth. In particular, sugar content rises to very high levels in response to falling temperatures and shortening day length. This nutritional change does not happen overnight due to the first frost but spreads over time.
Several factors influence the growth of calves grazing and dropping tall fescue, including the condition of the fescue endophyte and the length of the grazing period. The presence of an endophyte of fescue will reduce gain even as temperatures drop in the fall. Stocked calves infected with endophytes gained 1.49 pounds per day in the Kentucky trial and 1.85 pounds in the Oklahoma trial. Calves on endophyte-free tall fescue in the same trials gained 2.17 lbs/day in Kentucky (45% increase) and 2.47 lbs/day in Oklahoma (34% increase). In comparison, clover mixed with endophyte-infected tall fescue increased gains by only 9% in Oklahoma. In other studies where calves were grazed from early November to mid-December on stored tall fescue infested with endophytes, gains ranged from 0.97 to 2.13 pounds per day. In conclusion, calf gains are higher when endophyte-free tall fescue is grazed, but the detrimental effect of endophyte-infected tall fescue is much less with late fall grazing than with summer grazing.
Another area where stored tall fescue is beneficial to a livestock producer is extending the grazing season for a beef herd, thus reducing the need for stored feed. Studies have also shown that grazing tall fescue can reduce labor requirements by up to 25% of traditional hay feeding requirements. Researchers from the University of Kentucky found that stocked tall fescue yields 66 days of grazing per acre for dry-ripe Angus beef cows and allows cows to gain 1.24 pounds per day. In the same study, hay requirements were only 564 pounds per cow from November 6 to February 10, showing a reduction in winter cost of $100.00 per cow.
In summary, stocking cool-season adapted grasses, such as tall fescue and bluegrass, lengthens the grazing season, reduces winter hay feeding, and provides a good yield of high-quality forage per pound of nitrogen fertilizer applied (provided other nutrients are not deficient and nitrogen early), provides the cow herd with an ideal place to overwinter and calve. Information compiled from the UK publication ‘Pasture Stocking in Autumn and Winter’ by: Gary Leesfield, Ray Smith, Jimmy Henning, John Jones and Roy Burris. For more information contact the Pulaski County Extension Office.