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Fall Stockpiling and Pasture Housekeeping Tips

By   /  September 12, 2016  /  Comments Off on Fall Stockpiling and Pasture Housekeeping Tips

Here’s what Victor has been doing to get ready for his extended grazing season. It’s been a little different this year thanks to all the moisture he’s gotten. Whether its been dry or wet where you are, he’s got useful ideas.

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As Jim Gerrish wrote last week, Water Makes Grass Grow, and boy did it grow grass this year in Indiana where Victor Shelton works and farms. He says that thanks to all the moisture he’s gotten, both cool and warm season grasses were still growing in early September. With all the high rainfall, it was hard not to get some pugging and disturbance. But a little rest and those areas revegetated quickly. Victor says, “Under more normal conditions, pastures with this type of disturbance (where you can actually see bare ground in some places), would have yielded a host of disturbance-loving weeds mid-summer, such as crabgrass, annual ragweed, and foxtail. They didn’t compete very well this year with the relentless forage growth, but persistent hiding perennials liked the opportunity. Perennials such as goldenrod and ironweed did well and reached my mowing threshold requirement in some areas.”

So how do you prep for fall with all that moisture behind you? Here’s what Victor has been doing.

Clipping/Mowing for the Future

Tall Ironweed can be beneficial to pollinators, but not too good as pasture.

Tall Ironweed can be beneficial to pollinators, but not too good as pasture.

I’ve clipped a lot more pasture this year than normal, but it was needed for a couple reasons. First, I wanted to make sure I was maximizing the solar panel and keep forages growing as long as possible. The more growth you get this time of year, the longer you will be able to graze. Second, since the weeds are perennials, I certainly don’t want them producing more seed. Late mowing seems to put more hurt on them and greatly reduces the chance of them producing more flowers.

Another plant that tends to really appreciate the extra moisture and almost ideal growing conditions this year are blackberries. A few blackberries are fine as a fencerow here and there, and maybe even a small narrow patch occasionally in the pasture. A few provide some fine snacks while checking cows in the middle of summer and maybe even a pie or jam if enough make it back to the house. But, if left unchecked, they quickly become a brambly mess, shade out forages, and do little more than provide rabbit cover that even the best rabbit dog would not want to venture into. Mowing in the fall sets them back and if followed with some herbicide on new growth, they are fairly easy to control.

Stockpiling for the Fall

With the extra moisture, this should be an incredible stockpiling year. By getting livestock off pastures, you will maximize fall growth and that new growth is going to have the best quality for stockpiling.

Forages that don’t hold up as well overwinter, such as orchardgrass, should be grazed first, but even then, ideally after they have gone dormant, which is normally after several nights in a row below 26 degrees. If you want to boost the crude protein content of tall fescue for stockpiling, you can add 30 or 40 units of nitrogen. If you have at least 30% legume in the stand, then the added nitrogen is generally not needed.

You need to rest as many acres of pasture as you can in the fall, especially if you have tall fescue present. I have fed hay this time of year – to maximize fall growth. If you have corn fields that have been or will be harvested soon, running livestock on those stock fields will allow more rest on the pastures and thus more potential growth and grazing days. Dry soil conditions are ideal for grazing corn stalks, so play it by ear this year.

The nutritional value of corn stalks can certainly vary from year to year. About one acre of typical corn residue will be needed per animal unit per grazing month. Weekly allocations seem to work very well, so you need to figure how many acres of stalks will be needed for one week of grazing for your herd. Stalks will start out in the 8% crude protein range with approximately 70% total digestible nutrients (TDN) and over a period of about 60 days drop to 5% crude protein and 40% TDN. Stalks will meet most of spring calving cows’ energy needs during mid gestation.

Growing animals, such as calves and fall calving lactating cows may be lacking a little in energy and protein and most likely will need to be supplemented if fed on only stalks. Energy can be increased on these stalk fields by seeding annuals which need to be seeded as soon as possible.

Cover Crops for Fall Grazing

Fall grazing of Oats and Rye. Photo courtesy of Virgina Cooperative Extension.

Fall grazing of Oats and Rye. Photo courtesy of Virgina Cooperative Extension.

When you getting ready for fall/winter grazing next year, don’t forget about cover cropping. My favorite fall grazing mix is spring oats, a brassica such as turnips, and cereal rye. The oats and turnips provide some really good high yielding fall forage for grazing that comes on quickly with adequate moisture, and the cereal rye sticks around to keep something green growing and providing some winter cover, spring residue, and possible spring grazing.

Keep on grazing!

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About the author

For more than 25 years, Victor Shelton, Indiana agronomist and grazing specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has provided advice about grazing’s best practices. He travels across the state conducting pasture walks, working one on one with farmers and participating in grazing talks. He also writes a newsletter called "Grazing Bites" as a way to talk about current and seasonal grazing issues and what farmers need to be prepared for.

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