Prep pastures for stockpiling forages

Stockpiling got somewhat of bad name during the coronavirus pandemic as concerned consumers bought up toilet paper, sanitizing supplies and staple foods, leaving grocery store shelves bare for weeks.

But when it comes to forages for your livestock, stockpiling is a good thing. Stockpiled pastures can contribute significantly to late fall and winter feed needs for cows. And now’s the time to start preparing.

With stockpiling, perennial pastures are left to grow through the late summer and early fall rather than being harvested and stored. During this time days get shorter and temperatures get cooler, so high-quality, cool-season forages can accumulate, even after many days of growth. Missouri has an abundance of pastures planted in tall fescue, frequently argued to be the grass that stockpiles the best. Fescue maintains more active growth at lower temperatures than most other cool-season grasses, and the heavy waxy layer on the leaves makes the plant more resistant to frost damage.

Strip grazing stockpiled pasture results in better use of the forage. Use temporary electric wire to section off the field, allocating one to three days of feed allowance at a time for the herd. The Universi­ty of Missouri has found that this method increases grazing days by 40% over continuously grazing stockpiled forages.

To prepare pastures for stock­piling, graze the forage to a 3-inch residual and remove cattle. Make a nitrogen application, typically in August. The expected dry matter response to nitrogen is at least 10-fold. Ask your MFA agronomy specialist for specific recommenda­tions.

Stockpiled fescue holds its nu­tritive quality through the fall and winter. To cover the energy and protein requirements of gestating cows, stockpiled fescue should:

  • Provide greater than 3% of body weight as forage dry matter per head, per day.
  • Have average protein content greater than 12%.
  • Contain more than 55% total digestible nutrients.

At a minimum, cows in good flesh will need a mineral sup­plement. Feeding an ionophore improves the energy of the entire diet and is relatively painless to implement. It is always a good idea to send a forage sample to the lab to get an estimate of its nutritive value.

If the fescue in question is endo­phyte-infected, the alkaloids will decline the longer the fescue stands in the pasture. Higher nitrogen applications to infected-fescue pastures tend to increase the level of toxic alkaloids. Nontoxic fescues respond to additional fertility and don’t produce the detrimental alka­loids. I typically see 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of dry matter per acre with stockpiled fescue. To reach those higher yields, you need good condi­tions and good fertility.

If you’re far enough south, ber­mudagrass also stockpiles well, but you should use an improved culti­var for best results. Hybrid bermu­dagrass varieties tend to work better in stockpile because of their higher yield potential compared to com­mon bermudagrass. Ask your MFA agronomy specialist for site-specific recommendations.

A warm-season forage, bermu­dagrass dislikes cooler weather. It grows best between 85 and 95 degrees, and quality declines sharp­ly if temperatures drop below 60 degrees at night. If there is an early frost, it is done for the year. Howev­er, if fall temperatures are relatively warm, the dry matter yield can be impressive.

Bermuda is a heavy feeder, so hefty applications of fertility are required. As with fescue, graze the pasture to a 3-inch residual in early August. Remove cattle, and then make a fertility application at the start of stockpiling. Strip grazing also works best with bermudagrass.

No matter the forage you plan to stockpile, timing is a key strategy for success. Manage so that you give yourself as many growing days as possible for stockpile growth to occur before the first frosts.

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