Stockpiling Pasture for Winter Grazing With Electric Fencing
We have had a great hay season in Jackson and Swain counties this year with two cuttings. So now is the time to decide to wait for a possible third cutting or plan for “Winter Grazing” if you have the resources such as fencing, water and pasture to graze. This may be the year to start “Stockpiling” your fall grass growth to help you save on winter feed costs and labor. Now is the time to begin. Analyze your pastures to determine which are candidates for stockpiling. If you haven’t already taken soil samples, take them now and get them sent off as soon as possible. The following information will help you set up a stockpiling program on your farm for this winter’s forage.
Characteristics- Tall fescue is a cool- season perennial grass that can be managed to provide significant grazing during winter months when other forages is in short supply. Fescue is in semi-dormant condition during much of the summer (June- August). In late August it begins to respond to decreasing day length and temperature by increasing its growth rate. The clear, cool days of autumn stimulate the plant to manufacture and store carbohydrates for the winter period. The primary fall growth phases occurs from September through November. Grass produced during these months is some of the best of the year due to its high carbohydrate concentration. If proper management is followed 2,000, to 3,500 pounds of dry matter per acre may be accumulated by mid November.
Stockpiling Defined– Stockpiling refers to management that defers the grazing of forage produced during August through November until later, November through February (when grazing is scarce). Depending on the class of animal and the amount of grass stockpiled, part or all of the nutritional requirements of grazing animals can be satisfied. How long the accumulated grass will last depends on how the grass is allocated to the animal group.
How to Graze– Use electric fence with a strip grazing technique to ration the grass to the animals. If a daily feed allocation is offered by allowing animals to line-up along a temporary polywire fence, 70 to 80% utilization of the forage can be achieved. This is true because very little of the fresh pasture becomes fouled with manure and urine before the cattle attempt to graze it. Furthermore, since the growth rate of fescue is very low from late (about 5 lbs./A/day) November until late February, you don’t have to worry about regrowth or ‘back fencing’ cattle off the pasture area just grazed. Simply move the fence forward. This is also helpful in providing access to water.
Stockpiling Steps – A few simple assumptions and a little trial and error can get you started. Select the area to be used for stockpiling well before the beginning of the accumulation period.
Stage-back the pasture (s) to mid August to early September by removing any excess growth above 3 inches that accumulated over the summer by grazing or mowing for hay.
After stage-back, top-dress 50 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre on the pasture and close it to grazing. Pastures will accumulate growth at the rate of about 15 to 35 pounds of dry matter per acre per day during the accumulation period (Aug.-Dec.).
Graze all other pasture on the farm (especially warm-season grasses) before beginning to graze the stockpiled growth. About ½ acre of stockpiled grass per animal unit will provide about 60 to 90 days of grazing. Use electric fence to strictly allocate pasture feed according to predetermined nutritional requirements.
Jackson and Swain County Extension has temporary electric fencing to rent, so please contact County Extension Director Robert J. Hawk at 586-4009 or 488-3838 for more information. Article material from Jackson and McDowell Cooperative Extension.