Using Stockpile to Extend Your Grazing Season
Carrie Swanson, Extension Agent, Albemarle
Did you know that 50-75% of cow/calf production costs are related to winter feeding expenses? Regardless of species, the more you can graze your animals, the lower your cost of production. Stockpiling cool season grasses is a great way to extend your grazing season and lower your hay/feed bill. Extending the grazing season also benefits water quality through improved water infiltration, improved nutrient efficiency, fewer bare areas in fields (winter feeding sites) and improved soil organic matter.
Stockpiled fescue will produce an average of 1-1 ½ tons of dry matter per acre. And, August is the perfect time to start. Begin by grazing and/or clipping where you plan to stockpile to remove any mature growth. This will promote new leaf growth, which in turn will provide greater digestibility and more nutrition (especially important for growing and lactating animals). Next, remove animals from the land you are going to stockpile and add 40-60 pounds of Nitrogen per acre (best to have this done by the end of August). Cool season grasses will continue to grow throughout the Fall, and that standing forage will retain most of its digestibility and nutrition through the winter (generally ranking as good or better than high quality hay). Start feeding the stockpiled grass when you run out of grazing pasture.
You will have less waste and better utilization of forage if you strip graze stockpiled areas. During the winter, there is no need to back fence strips, since the grass is no longer growing.
If you’re interested in learning more about extending the grazing season for your animals, plan to attend the Graze 300 program in Albemarle this Fall (contact Carrie Swanson at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info). Graze 300 is an Extension initiative to encourage producers to strive for a goal of at least 300 grazing days a year. Most cattle, sheep, goat and horse producers in Virginia feed hay for 4 months or more each year. Our goal is to educate and inspire more producers to rely on grazing rather than feeding hay.