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?
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?
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.