More and more, ranchers are setting aside pasture for late-year feeding – but, of course, all of that could change next year.
“It’s more of a common practice this year than it’s been in the last several,” Washington County, Ark. Extension agriculture agent Johnny Gunsaulis told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, pointing to dry falls the last few years that have made the practice less workable. But Gunsaulis said when drought in late September and October hasn’t limited its effectiveness, feeding preserved, standing forage has become increasingly popular. One reason is the high cost of diesel, plus twine and other baling expenses, but there are other benefits.
“Fescue holds its quality well into the winter,” he said, “as well as if it would have been baled for hay.  It preserves itself really well, and produces a lot of fall growth… Then the regrowth from that will be great next spring, because it’s had a good root system development coming into the winter.” In addition, Gunsaulis said, the toxin levels from endophytes in fescue drop off dramatically after about Thanksgiving.  “What you end up with is a better forage when it’s grazed in December than what it was in October,” Gunsaulis said, “and you don’t see the negative effects of that toxin on cattle.”
Bermudagrass, too, will hold its value for mature cows into the late fall, but it drops off in December when frost starts contributing to leaf loss. “Calves will probably need some supplement on the stockpiled bermuda,” Gunsaulis added, “but cows do well on it.”
The idea, he said, is to harvest the forage off an area of pasture in late August; then, apply 60 lbs of nitrogen – and potash, too, if it’s needed, though Gunsaulis says some producers will get by without it. “That will just allow that forage to accumulate in the fall and then feed it in the winter,” he said. “Even if you don’t have enough to do your whole herd, it’s still a benefit doing just a part of your winter feeding that way… There’s probably a day that you can put on the calendar where if grazing is an option for you, you’re better off to just go ahead and park the baler.” On those fields where grazing is not an option, of course, you can still harvest the forage mechanically.
Another important point is to just allocate small portions of the preserved pasture at a time to the cattle. “You need to allow just enough for a couple of days’ supply,” says Gunsaulis. “If you turn a group of cattle into a stockpiled field without limiting access to it, they’ll waste a lot of it just by tromping and bending and defecating. If they just have a couple days’ supply, they’ll clean it up about as slick as you can cut and bale it.”
The way to determine whether a preserved fescue stand needs reseeding, Gunsaulis said, is to turn the cows into the field and then, as soon as it’s clean, pull them back out. “Even right now,” he said, “you’ll see a little bit of quick regrowth, because of that root system that the plant has accumulated. At least, on fescue you will – bermuda, you won’t really see any regrowth. That would be a good way to see if you think that the stand needed to be thickened up.” He added that’s also a good time to add some clover into the mix.
Although cattle prices are down, Gunsaulis said it’s not affecting pasture occupancy rates. The national cow herd is also reduced compared to demand, he said, but “our area still is pretty populated; I don’t know that we’ve lost numbers of beef cows locally, other than farms that went out for development. On the farms that are still current, we still have a pretty good stocking rate of cattle in this part of the country.” And, of course, the wet fall has left ranchers with a lot of grass – more encouragement to keep their cows on the farm.


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