This month’s grazier’s focus is on stockpiling. As part of that, here’s some more information to think about what you can do to extend your grazing season.
Jim Green, NRCS Grazing Specialist says that stockpile grazing is not a new concept. “Some of the original research on stockpiled or accumulated growth of cool season grasses started back in the 60s. So we’ve known for many, many years that we could accumulate a lot of growth in the fall,” Green says. “We knew that it would maintain its quality into the winter, we knew we could ration it out and utilize 75 or more percent of what was there. So we’ve known it a long time.” But it wasn’t until prices for fuel and hay harvesting began increasing that graziers really began thinking about trying the system.
In this 16:54 video, three South Carolina producers describe how they stockpile and how both their livestock and their bank accounts have profited from the switch. Since not all of us are have the same forage, or climate as these graziers, in the transcript that follows, I’ve added tips and links to articles so you’ll have information you need to adapt this practice to your own operation.
Stockpiling Reduces Costs and Hay Harvest and Feeding Challenges
Johnny Rogers: My wife and I both grew up on traditional small beef cattle farms, where you basically graze the cattle all summer and then feed hay all winter. All of that hay we made ourselves. When we started our operation here at Roxboro, we could either be in the cow business or the equipment business. So we chose to buy cows.
Jim Green, NRCS Grazing Specialist: In this country, most of our beef cattle producers have 25 or 30 head of cattle or less, and not many of them – in fact almost none of them – can control their income from cattle. But they can do a lot to control their expenses. And anything they can do to affect that cost of feed will have a significant impact.
65%-75% of cost to produce cattle = Feed
Brad Storie: I was actually feeding hay by the first of November. I was running out of grass totally by the middle of December of the first of January. My name’s Brad Storie, I live in Hamptonville, North Carolina. I’m primarily a beef cattle/hay producer. When I came out to feed hay, I would bring two or three rolls of hay out with a tractor. In the year before, I really don’t know how many rolls I fed, but somewhere in the neighborhood probably of 100 to 125 rolls.
Johnny Rogers: It’s just very, very difficult in our region to make quality hay. It’s just – it’s very hard to do both from a harvest/baling standpoint, all the way to proper storage. We just have so much humidity and heat, and inopportune rain, or intermittent rain, or lack of rain.
Brad Storie: Hay is getting more and more expensive, especially with fuel prices, the decline and everything else, not to mention the wear and tear of your equipment. I had to look for other options because of the economic factors.
Strip Grazing Makes the Most of Stockpile
Jim Green: Feed cost on a beef cattle farm is usually controlled through the management of pasture. Okay, we can’t grow grass in the middle of the winter when the temperature is below 40 degrees or so, but we can accumulate growth previous to that season. Accumulated in the field, sometimes it’s called stockpiling.
When the grazing season on the rest of the farm is completed, we can move animals into that stockpile or accumulated growth, and ration it out in a reasonable way to extend the season that animals are actually given their feed from the pasture.
Bob Woodard: I try to stockpile for the wintertime so I don’t have to feed hay. I usually try to get the cattle off of that land by the end of August and usually start rotational grazing – strip grazing that in November, and right on through until February, and then move them back to the other pastures that I didn’t have stockpiled once they start growing and producing in the spring.
Well I’ve lived on a farm my whole life. My parents had a farm in New Jersey, my mom has been in farming her whole life. I just enjoy it, and like being outside, working on the farm. Right now I’m running around 85 head, it’s about 40 cows and about 45 calves. I’m looking to actually get – try about 100 head on this grazing program.
Brad Storie: We started the strip grazing – the rotational grazing in the far paddock and I move the fence every day, equivalent of about 30 feet, and then the whole distance across the paddock. And they had afresh green grass, and the cows got so accustomed to it that they would be standing lined up waiting for me to move the fence each day. When I walk to that gate, they know exactly what’s coming. They’re going to get lush green grass, and they love it.
Want more on strip grazing stockpile? Here you go:
What Makes Good Stockpile?
Johnny Rogers: Here’s a section of a pasture that we’re going to utilize for stockpiling this winter. For the most part, this is the type of pasture we like, quite a bit of mixture of warm season and cool season grasses, and it should stockpile very well. When you’re planning a stockpiling program, or looking at a stockpiling program you need to think a little about your cattle. What are their nutrient requirements going to be through the winter time? Do you have the type of forage that stockpiles very well, that will give you ample fall growth and that will weather very well through the wet, possible icy snowy winters that we may have here in this area.
Bob Woodward: It’s still August right now and I’ve set aside about 60 acres of land that I’m not going to have the cattle on until November, trying to look for around maybe 3,000 pounds of grass, to 5,00 pounds of grass per acre.
Brad Storie: I hope that I’ll go through the first of March just like I did last year and possibly have more residual grass left. And I want to try to leave at least a good 2 inches to help the grass grow back quicker.
Johnny Rogers: Usually in our system it’s sometime around late November early December, we’ll just start at the water source with the cattle, and then we’ll start strip grazing.
Note: Not everyone can stockpile enough to graze year round, and it’s more difficult in some places than others. Plan ahead, and give yourself some wiggle room. Make sure you’re feeding the animals you can and should be feeding, and send the rest elsewhere if you’re coming up short. And as you’re learning, it’s always nice to have a little hay to fall back on.
Stockpile is Nutritious!
Brad Storie:We tested the grass for the food value, as well as the hay. My hay tested at about 7% protein, the grass is testing at about 14 to 15 % protein. Ity’s what the cows want.
Johnny Rogers: One of the reasons we like stockpiling is from a nutritional standpoint, it’s just simply better than hay. If you do a side-by nutritional analysis, you’ll see just about whatever components you want to look at – crude protein, digestible energy, the stockpiled forage is going to have an advantage over dry hay.
Stockpiling Reduces Fertilizer Needs
Bob Woodard: It’s helped me keep my cost down as far as fertilizer, and the diesel. With diesel at almost $4 a gallon right now, I’m not using any in my tractors in the wintertime. And I’m sure I’ll have to do some fertilizing, but with the distribution of the manure, I think I’m saving on fertilizer also, which is very expensive.
Johnny Rogers: I think one of the benefits that probably doesn’t get talked about enough with grazing stockpile forage is the distribution of the manure. We all understand that fertilizer, regardless of the source is extremely expensive right now. You really want those nutrients to stay in your pasture where they can be utilized. And we really get a nice manure distribution with our cattle when we use strip grazing.
Jim Green: Because we’re generally rationing out the pasture in very small strips, we’ve got a high density of animals on a very small area, their manure and urine is more uniformly distributed. As you move across the pasture, they pretty much move that distribution of manure and urine across the pasture. getting good utilization of forage and good distribution of nutrients.
Reduced Labor With Stockpiling
Johnny Rogers: But the labor involved in stockpiling – a lot of people say it’s just too much work. I say it’s too much work to put up hay all summer and then feed hay all winter. We use a 4-wheeler. it’s really enjoyable thing to do to go out and work with the cattle, you know, see the cattle, and not have to get out on a tractor.
It’s something that doesn’t take a lot of time, and just offers a huge benefit. With some minimal investment in step-in posts, some polywire and some geared reels, you can set up your paddocks on the weekend, and just take them down each day or every couple of days – whatever suits your management style.
Brad Storie: It would save you time if you got set up and prepared. Total time – walking from the house out here, moving the fence, and then going back – 30 minutes. And that’s about the same time, if not actually a little shorter than it would take me when I was putting two and three rolls of hay out here a couple winters ago.
It’s the 16th of February, we’re almost at the end of winter. We can see some grass greening up now, and I have enough grass in this pasture to continue probably until the end of February, maybe the end of the first week of March. I will have grazed this pasture for three months, with no hay. I haven’t even cranked my tractor to move rolled hay except when I had a neighbor come wanting to buy some of the hay I had left over.
Bob Woodard: I’d say you got 12 inches of grass right here. There was no need to bale and put it in the barn, and spend the time baling, and the diesel fuel baling, and then money to put it in the barn, and then the time to get it back out of the barn, and bring back out here, either, you know roll the round bales out for the cows, and it’s much easier for me, and much more economical for me to just leave it in the field and let the cows eat it. I started off with probably around 60 acres of stockpiled grass. I still have about 30 acres, so I’m only about half way through my stockpile, which will last me right through the rest of February, March and April.
What Happens When it Snows?
Bob Woodward: When I first started this program, I was afraid that maybe the cattle would not winter as good, and maybe drop a body score. But I’ve had no problems, and some of them even look better to me after the grazing than they did before I started in the winter time.
Brad Storie: When the snow was on the ground, we had about 4 inches of snow and then it iced, it came a big sleet storm on top of it. I was worried. I didn’t think they would be able to dig through it. But they would scratch with their feet, they would paw with their feet and take their noses and actually break that ice crust on top to get to the green grass. Every time I moved a fence, they were right there breaking that crust until it melted. It’s what cows love – green grass. And my cows are in probably as good a shape as I’ve ever had them coming out of winter at this point in time.
Johnny Rogers: We’ve probably got a couple of more weeks left in our stockpile grazing for this winter. It’s been a great season so far, and the stockpile held up pretty well and the cows have come through in excellent condition.
The Moral of the Story
Brad Storie: Too many people have gotten in the mindset that have cattle that they have to feed hay. They have to take that roll of hay out there or they’re not doing the cattle justice. but you can see these cows would much rather have that green grass than to have hay. The hay that I have made, I’m not going to make again because I’ve seen that this system works. If you try this system, I can’t help but believe that you’re going to like it. I believe you would see that it would be a great savings, but I the biggest thing is it’s going to be a big improvement for your pasture and the cattle. I will continue to do this grazing system in the future, as long as I have cattle on this property.