|Stockpiling Warm-Season Grasses|
Less-than-optimum prices for livestock products, along with increased costs of fertilizer, fuel and other production inputs, has made it increasingly difficult for livestock producers to make a profit. Providing stored feed during times when pasture is not available is one of the most costly aspects of producing livestock, so it makes sense for producers to investigate every option for minimizing the need for hay or other stored feed.
Stockpiling forage is the technique of allowing pasture growth to accumulate so it can be grazed at a later time. This helps "even out" the availability of pasture forage, thus extending the grazing season while avoiding the use of expensive haymaking machinery. Tall fescue is the forage species best suited to being stockpiled, mainly because it holds its forage quality well over a long period of time. However, forage of warm-
Stockpiling WSG is not simply the practice of grazing excess late-
Strip grazing is the most efficient means of utilizing stockpiled forage. A good approach is to use an electric fence to allocate enough forage for about three days. Forage quality will decline over time, but initially should be on the order of eight to 14 percent crude protein and at least 50 percent total digestible nutrients. It is important to not graze the stockpiled forage too closely, because the forage closest to the ground will be stemmy and low in quality, thus providing poor nutrition. A rule of thumb is to graze about two-
The amount of forage produced will be highly dependant on rainfall, but in a year with decent precipitation it could be 2,000 pounds or more of dry matter (DM) per acre. A 1,000 pound beef cow will consume about 26 pounds of DM per day. Thus, if 2,000 pounds of forage accumulate per acre and 65 percent is actually consumed, an acre would provide about 50 days of grazing for one 1,000
Stockpiling of WSG offers promise for some producers. It can work well for dry, mature beef cattle in a spring-calving herd, but supplementation may be needed for other cattle classes or other species of animals. Producers who have some fescue can graze stockpiled WSG before grazing fescue. In areas where cool-season perennials are not adapted, stockpiled forage of WSG can provide late autumn/early winter nutrition that complements late winter-spring forage growth from other WSG pastures that have been over-seeded with winter annuals.
Bahiagrass can also be stockpiled, but in work done in Texas, stockpiled Bermudagrass forage held its quality better than bahiagrass. Also, the variety ‘Tifton 85’ was the best of several Bermudagrasses evaluated due to better autumn production.
Don Ball is an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with Auburn University.