Much of the Midwest has, for the most part, been blessed with good weather this year for pasture and hay growth. If favorable climate conditions continue, producers should consider grazing weaned calves this fall as an option to add weight to feeder calves before marketing. Autumn is quickly approaching and we are getting closer to weaning spring-born calves, so now is the time to make decisions regarding the fall calf crop.  
Cattle producers have always had a variety of options to add more weight to feeder calves and subsequently delay marketing of those calves. However, with production costs, including feed prices, being relatively high, feedlot buyers seem to be more willing to pay extra for heavy-weight feeder calves relative to lighter-weight feeder calves than they might have in the past. With cattle feeders pushing for fewer days on feed, producers have a real opportunity to add additional weight to weaned calves at home. Grazing can present the cheapest nutrient resource for putting on those additional pounds of gain.
An excellent option for grazing fall-weaned calves would be on stockpiled fescue with either a rotational or strip grazing system in place to make better utilization of the forage. Stockpiling is simply allowing forages to accumulate for grazing at a later period. In this case, fall or winter. Ideally, fescue to be stockpiled, should be mowed, clipped, or grazed in the summer to remove mature growth, cattle should be removed, and then 40-80 pounds of nitrogen should be applied in late summer. Since fescue will maintain satisfactory forage quality throughout the winter, it can potentially be grazed from November through February. Of course, adequate moisture in the summer and early fall is necessary for stockpiling to be successful. Also, forage management is critical for producers to be satisfied with outcomes. Utilization is substantially decreased when grazing is not controlled. Allowing access to a large area of stockpiled forage will result in substantial trampling losses. Utilizing rotational or strip grazing with electric fencing to control animal access to the forage is beneficial. A good rule of thumb is for producers to allocate about three days worth of forage at a time, by beginning grazing near a water source and simply moving the fence forward as needed. A back fence is not even necessary.
Another strategy to consider when grazing stockpiled pastures is to move weaned calves at a relatively fast pace and then run dry cows behind them to clean up the remaining forage. This will allow calves to have access to the higher quality forages, while cows will consume the remaining lesser quality forage.
Producers could expect average daily gains, for calves grazing stockpiled fescue, to be somewhere near one to two pounds a day. Producers could still supplement grazing calves with stored feeds if economics warranted it. As far as duration of grazing is concerned, it could vary depending on forage availability and marketing signals.
This fall, producers may want to consider modifying their production system to put additional gain on weaned calves before they are marketed or placed in feedlots. One economical option is through the use of grazing weaned calves on stockpiled fescue. With appropriate weather conditions and some extra management, producers may be able to generate additional profits.
Bruce Shanks, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor of Animal Science at Lincoln University and owns Sassafras Valley Ranch in Belle, Mo.


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