Prepare now for fall, winter grazing
Stockpiling winter forage is a huge part of grazing programs for producers in the Ozarks. Having stockpiled forage means the grazing season can extend into the winter and can reduce hay and supplemental feed costs. Producers should begin planning now for optimum amounts of stockpiled forage.
Remove Livestock or Limit Grazing: Once producers have determined which pastures will be used for stockpiling, they should (ideally) not allow animals to graze them. “Remove grazing livestock from stockpile pastures by Aug. 1 for maximum fall production,” Jill Scheidt, Agronomy Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said. The University of Arkansas Extension recommends leaving behind forage stubble of 2 to 3 inches for Bermudagrass and 3 to 4 inches of fescue to begin to accumulate a good quantity of grass growth by October/November when stockpiled forage is typically needed.
Test and Fertilize: Proper application of fertilizer to pasture where forage is being stockpiled will ensure optimum results. “Early to mid-September is a good time to add fall fertility,” Scheidt said, “When adding nitrogen, apply two-thirds of the total yearly amount in the spring and the remaining one-third in early fall. Don’t forget to soil test so you know where your soil fertility currently stands and what you need to add in order to achieve yield goals.”
Implement Strip or Rotational Grazing Practices: To make stockpiled forage last longer, producers are encouraged to strip or rotationally graze these pastures. John Jennings, forage professor with the University of Arkansas, and other Extension professionals explained that stockpiled forage can be valuable under any grazing method, but length of the grazing period can be increased substantially by using improved grazing practices. If cattle are allowed to continuously graze the entire pasture with unrestricted access to the stockpiled forage, the potential grazing period will be shortened.
However, strip grazing stockpiled forages using temporary electric fence can offer the highest utilization of the pasture. In Arkansas demonstrations strip grazing management doubled the number of animal units grazing days per acre compared to continuous grazing of the entire stockpiled pasture. For strip grazing, a single strand of temporary electric fence wire is placed across the field to allow the herd access to a strip of pasture large enough for a two- to three-day grazing allotment. After cattle graze each strip of forage, the electric wire is advanced across the field to provide fresh strips. Some producers find that two wires work better for strip grazing. One wire limits the cattle to the strip being grazed and the other wire is placed one strip ahead to prevent the cattle from moving across the entire field each time a new strip is offered. Only one wire needs to be moved each time in an alternating pattern to provide a fresh strip of forage. Grazing should begin on the end of the field nearest the water source. This reduces trampling damage to the remaining forage because the cattle travel back across the grazed area for water. A back wire is not needed when grazing dormant stockpiled forages so the cow’s loafing area becomes larger as each strip is grazed. For pastures with the water source near the middle of the pasture, simply strip graze each side of the pasture, starting at the water source. Place a second fence wire to restrict access to the half of the pasture that is not being grazed until grazing of the first half is finished.”
Producers can also implement rotational grazing, which is a bit different from strip grazing. The Natural Resource Conservation Service explained this grazing system. Under rotational grazing, only one portion of the pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of pasture “rests.” To accomplish this, pastures are sub-divided into smaller areas (referred to as paddocks) and livestock are moved from one paddock to another. Resting grazed paddocks allows forage plants to renew energy reserves, rebuild vigor, deepen their root system, and give long term maximum production. While it can be tempting to adhere to a very strict schedule when rotationally grazing, this practice is most successful when producers time and adjust their rotation to the forage growth – area extension professionals can help with this.
If the wet summer in the Ozarks turns dry again, rotational grazing can be a safeguard for producers as they prepare to stockpile forage for winter. This practice will keep the plants stronger and encourage more stable production in the event of another period of drought.