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Extend Your Grazing Season By Stockpiling Forage – Part 1

By   /  July 13, 2020  /  4 Comments

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This picture, shows the blur of the cow tongue action ripping off her next bite of succulent stockpiled grass in February. Photo by Greg Judy

There are two different ways to feed your livestock with stockpiled forage over the winter. One way is to make hay or silage and then feed it to livestock over the winter. This can be quite expensive. The other option, which is much more economical, is to leave the forage in pasture where it stands, and let the livestock graze it through the winter.

If you’re planning to do this, now is the time to start thinking about what you’ve got in your pasture, how it will respond to stockpiling, and how you will manage your livestock so you can grow enough forage for the winter months. I’ve gathered information from a variety of sources to help you get started. Check the end of this article for links to these resources.

What Can be Stockpiled?

Stockpiled cool-season grass

Almost any forage can be stockpiled, though some grasses work better than others. Tall fescue is one of the best stockpile forages. It grows well into the late summer and fall to provide lots of biomass and its stiff, waxy leaves hold up well through the winter.

In a study in Wisconsin looking at 7 different forages, researchers found that tall fescue and early-maturing orchard grass performed the best, followed by late-maturing orchardgrass. Timothy and reed canarygrass both had average yields and average levels of crude protein, though Timothy had the highest digestible, and reed canarygrass among the lowest. Smooth bromegrass and quackgrass had the lowest yields, but higher than average protein, though quackgrass digestibility was low.

Legumes like alfafa and red clover can provide good nutrition as well as nitrogen to the pasture, but tend to live for a shorter amount of time in mixed stands where stockpile grazing is practiced. Fortunately, red clover has good seeding vigor and can be reestablished in the pasture during spring frost seeding or inter-seeding in the spring.

How Do I Start Stockpiling?

The most common practice is to allow forage to accumulate for the last 70 to 90 days of the growing season in pastures planned for stockpile. That means removing livestock from those pastures to allow forages to grow uninterrupted. Autumn forage is leafy and high in nutrition.

In some areas, an application of 40 to 50 pounds per acre of nitrogen is recommended to boost forage yield. If you plan on applying fertilizer, August is a better time for it so that plants can take advantage of the extra nutrients. Fertilizing in late September doesn’t help much. Rain is an important part of the stockpiling process. If it doesn’t rain in the fall, forage growth will be reduced and fertilizer efficiency will be impacted.

Grazing livestock while at the same time stockpiling for the winter poses some problems. First, stockpiling begins in August and September, months that are also known for pasture shortages. If you’ve set your stocking rate to manage for grazing into the winter months, this may not be as big a problem.

Which Pastures Are Best for Stockpiling?

Cattle graze forage stockpiled from the previous growing season. Photo courtesy of Twitter.com/NerbasBrosAngus

The best pastures for stockpiling are those with a good water supply and easy winter access so that, if necessary, you can provide supplemental feed. Having a backup feed source is a good idea if you’re trying this for the first time, and to provide supplemental nutrition in cases where snow and rain reduce the nutritional value of your stockpiled forages.

Greg Judy has been trying a new stockpiling method and we’ll sharing that next week. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more, check out these fact sheets from Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This is the start of a longer discussion on extending the grazing season. Help your On Pasture community by sharing your experience, ideas, and questions in the comments section below.

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

4 Comments

  1. Tom Krawiec says:

    Kathy here are my two cents:
    I start thinking about stockpiling as soon as I start grazing in the spring. My goal is to get as many paddocks clipped as possible. To accomplish this, I do not strip graze. The herd is given the whole paddock to wander & graze as they like. There will be plants that do not get clipped on each rotation, however, my goal is to have good quality, high volume forage in November and beyond.
    Since I stopped strip grazing during the growing season and went to giving the animals the whole paddock, my stockpiled grass has improved in quality & volume. At the latitude where most of my grazing experience has taken place, Central Alberta, forage you want to stockpile needs to be set aside by about August 7. Decreasing daylight hours seem to reach a tipping point the first week of August. Which means, grass clipped after August 7 does not have enough sunshine to produce the significant volume I am looking for so that animals can graze through snow in December & January.
    To achieve good quality stockpile, I start clipping the paddocks chosen for stockpiling about July 20. In my perfect world, I would have all the stockpiling paddocks clipped on August 1, get rid of 50% of our animals, and continue grazing on the rest of our paddocks. Of course it doesn’t work that way so we do what we can.
    My report card for the year is the feed test I get done in mid-November. If the TDN is above 60% and protein is 12-15% I have done a good job and I give myself a gold star!lol

    • Tom Krawiec says:

      I forgot to mention that my goal for volume of harvested stock pile is at least 150 stock days per acre (3600lbs DM). By harvested I mean what is taken by the livestock and not the 30%r that is left in the paddock after grazing.

  2. Gene Schriefer says:

    The feed value in legumes is primarily in the leaves, after a hard freeze these will eventually fall from the stem. In Wisconsin, red clover looses leaves before alfalfa which is before trefoil.

    In planning my stockpile grazing I start in that order. In heavy snow pack tall fescue is hard to beat, smooth brome tends to lay flat and orchardgrass is in intermediate.

    Our reed canary grass is awful for stockpiling, it turns yellow and bitter late in the year and livestock will not graze it. Not sure why others have a better experience.

    Currently I’ve been utilizing Big Bluestem as a winter stockpile feed for beef cows.

  3. Zk Zk says:

    Most of our pastures are a mix of hill-sides and waterways. Are we better off stockpiling the slopes or the waterways?
    We are located in MN, so our growing season ends in late September/early October and the ground *should be* frozen in December.

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