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How Do You Graze in November When the Weather is Warmer or Wetter Than Usual?

I mentioned last month that there are still plenty of good growing days left this fall and they need to be taken advantage of. One of the first things to do to make sure you obtain as much plant growth as possible, especially with perennial forages, is to stop grazing forages that will continue to grow for a while, especially forages that will stockpile like tall fescue. Now, I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted it would be almost 70 degrees the day before Halloween. I remember quite well going Trick-or-Treating as a kid with snow on the ground a few times. It’s not the same weather pattern these days, that’s for sure.

Whether you believe in global warming or not is a deeper subject than I really want to get into in one of these articles, but it’s not hard to see though that we are in a warmer trend than four or five decades ago. I read an article recently that showed photos of cycling races over several decades. Clips from the 1980’s showed trees with bare to pretty much leaf-less limbs. Most recent photos showed trees covered with leaves and spring flowers. Pictures don’t lie.

You want to plan for how to adapt for changes in weather. Keeping as many options open as possible for grazing is a good place to start, but you also want to make sure you have a good contingency plan too. Last spring caught a lot of people off guard. No one could have predicted that we would have such wet conditions in February, nor such a delay in forage growth. Thank goodness for hay reserves.

Extra forage should be part of that contingency plan. With a few extra growing days prior to killing frost, you should be maximizing as much growth as possible for as long as possible prior to grazing it. A killing frost is typically two or more nights in a row at 25 degrees or lower, which is enough of a cold spell to force the plants into dormancy. Once dormant, they can be grazed with less harm to energy reserves. But remember, forage plants are the most sensitive to grazing in the fall. That is why I usually promote the use of annuals or crop residue, or ideally the combination of the two in the early fall. It allows the pastures to recuperate and build reserves.

Quality looking fall forage waiting to go dormant. Once dormant it can be grazed with less harm to energy reserves.


If you don’t have annuals or crop residues to graze, then you always have the option of feeding hay for a while and then going back to grazing. I know that this sounds crazy to some people. Why would I feed hay when I still have grass that I can graze? Two reasons. Number one, you don’t want to hurt plant reserves impacting the stand for next year’s growth. Number two, you can potentially gain a lot more growth if moisture and fertility is in check with the increasing green solar panel.

There are times or situations when grazing prior to dormancy or a killing frost is what is needed. If you want to suppress spring growth, then grazing hard prior to dormancy can be beneficial. If you are frost-seeding clover into the field later this winter, this suppression of the grasses in the spring provides a longer window for the clover to grow and become established due to reducing the competition of the existing perennial grasses. I’ve also found that fields that have become dominantly grass, especially a monoculture of tall fescue, can be grazed fairly hard prior to early fall pre-dormancy and, if a good seed bank is present, you can have increased diversity.

Before I go on I do want say that you can have a positive impact on weather and it doesn’t include any rain dances. Weather can be impacted by soil moisture and carbon. You can help do your part by keeping the ground covered, keeping soil disturbance to a minimum, and by keeping something growing on it all the time, which is helping to bank moisture and carbon. It has been said that we could reverse almost all of the damage by just increasing soil organic matter on crop fields by one percent and returning excess atmospheric carbon to the terrestrial sink. Food for thought.

I’ve also gotten plenty of phone calls asking about taking one more cutting of hay. Okay, the weather has been pretty nice at times, but it is November! The desire for just one more cutting of hay this season tempts even the best producers. Remember that regrowth comes from energy reserves in the plant’s roots. Generally, you need at least five to six weeks of regrowth after the last cutting to allow for rebuilding those energy reserves. If you must cut it, then it’s best to wait until after at least one or two killing frosts after the plant is dormant. The same would be true if you decided to graze it.

Like I mentioned earlier, feeding hay right now might still be your best option until you have had sufficient killing frosts. It will help set the stage for maintaining root reserves and faster growing forages next spring and it will buy you more growing days until the plants are truly dormant. Remember, as long as plants are not dormant, they will continue to grow if there is sufficient moisture and nutrients and then once they go dormant, it is basically standing hay. Allocate it out wisely. The longer it lasts, the longer you will continue to graze and leave the tractor in the shed.

I highly recommend strip grazing the stockpiled forage once you start grazing it. Three sets of reels with poly-wire on them, a sufficient number of step-in posts and connectors and you are in business. You generally want three sets. One set for that first break wire. The second set is for a back fence if needed. If you do not have portable water, then they may have to walk over where they have been to get to the water. If this is the case, start on the water end of the paddock. The third set is for the next day’s move and it’s always better to have that set up ahead of time. Nothing like a group of impatient hungry cows complaining that you aren’t moving fast enough setting up that new fence. If you already have it set up and just have to open it up to them then they won’t care how long it takes you to move it for the next day.

Take advantage of the forage you have and keep on grazing!

Reminders & Opportunities

7th National Grazing Lands Conference – December 2-5, 2018, Reno, Nevada. “Take the Gamble Out of Grazing”

2019 American Forage and Grazing Council Annual Conference and 75th Anniversary — January 6-9, 2019, St. Louis, MO, Hyatt Regency at the Arch. Conference theme is “Forages Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”

2019 Heart of America Grazing Conference — January 22-23, 2019, Ferdinand Community Center, Ferdinand, Indiana

• Northern Indiana Grazing Conference (NIGC) – February 1-2, 2019, Michiana Event Center (new location) 4405 E Farver St., Shipshewana, IN. For more information about the NIGC or to get a registration form, please call the LaGrange County Soil & Water Conservation District office at 260-463-3471 extension 3.

• Southern Indiana Grazing Conference (SIGC) – March 6, 2019, Crane, IN – Speakers include Greg Judy, Darby Simpson, and Peter Allen. For more information contact the Davies County Soil and Water Conservation office at 812-254-4780, Ext 3, email Toni Allison or visit or

Head over here for more pasture information and past issues of Grazing Bites.

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Victor Shelton
Victor Shelton
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.


  1. We live in northwestern Washington state. We have mild maritime climate with only a few days of intense cold a winter. Our February’s are always horribly wet and the ground is saturated by then so we implement a sacrifice area for them during winter. What stops our grass growth is lack of light. Pretty much after October 15th, no matter how mild the climate, the grass just sits there not growing. We practiced strip grazing a stockpiled field this fall very successfully. We do have a central watering area and rather than let them back into the whole field they were just in, we made the poly wire form an alley along the edge of just eaten field back to the watering area. We are letting the cows do one more quick run around of the other fields that are cross fenced- mostly because we just separated the calves and the moms can share a fence line with them this way. We have also pushed out our first round bale for them to supplement the low grass volume. By December 1st they will be full time on their sacrifice area and, if it is like last year, won’tcome out until late April due to the spongy ground. By mid June I will have to be mowing fields as the grass grows so fast and tall that my herd would have to be three times as big to keep up. But at that time of year we have daylight from 4:30 am to 10 pm. So daylight has more to do with rate of growth than temperature around here. We have dry summers as well with no rainfall often between beginning of July and September so things tend to stop growing then, although in my river valley grass remains green unlike most areas around us. Every year requires adaptation but we always be sure to have more round bales stacked up than we think we might need. Last year we had to use them all due to such a wet late spring. But this year we are predicted to have a drier, warmer winter. I could use that.

  2. Glad I’m not the only “crazy person” who’s fed hay early as a way of letting my stockpiling forages finish their growing and dormancy! Great article, thank you.

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