Grazing stockpiled forage

by Dan Undersander, Forage Agronomist


Accumulated or stockpiled forage can be an excellent source of forage for animals. Fall stockpiled forage is brown but is high quality since it is largely leaves, unlike summer accumulated brown forage which is stemmy and low quality. Grazing stockpiled forage is an excellent way to extend the grazing season and reduce costs of harvesting or buying forage.

In trials conducted at Arlington and Lancaster, fall accumulated forage was about 73.4 percent digestible in October and declined to 70 percent digestible in December and 65.5 percent in March. This quality would be more than adequate for sheep, dry cows and for growing animals. This can also be excellent forage for pleasure horses.

Grasses use up all the nitrogen available in the early season growth cycles and, while they will turn green in the fall, they will produce little growth without additional nitrogen. In order to optimize the tonnage of stockpiled forage 40 to 50 pounds nitrogen/acre should be applied in early August. This will result in an additional forage yield of one to two tons/acre.

Different grass species maintain yield and quality differently. Timothy, smooth bromegrass, and quackgrass are suitable for fall grazing, but they tend to lose quality after December. If these species have not been grazed or harvested, they will have stems and grazing should be limited to what leaves the cattle will consume. Late-maturing orchardgrass is best utilized by December for similar reasons. It will not stand up under snow. Tall fescue, early-maturing orchardgrass, and reed canarygrass are suitable for grazing in fall and winter, and, especially, late winter grazing as their dry matter and forage quality persist longer into the spring.

The key to maximizing the benefit of the forage accumulated in the pastures is to give only a small amount at a time to grazing animals.  If animals are given two to three days feed at a time, they will consume about 70 percent of the residue but if simply turned loose on a large pasture only about 30 percent of the residue will be consumed and the rest trampled down. Also, be careful to accurately estimate the available forage. I see many who overestimate the forage available and then animal intake (and performance) declines.

While posts may be difficult to get into frozen ground for moving the electric fence, other options are available. One of the simplest is to fill gallon ice cream buckets with sand and water and then stick a fiber glass fence post into the bucket. When the water freezes, you have a movable post that sets on the soil surface and can be used for supporting polywire fencing.

Don’t pull animals off pasture just because of snow. Cattle can graze through up to two feet of snow and sheep up to 1 foot of snow if there is no ice or a hard crust on the snow.

Water requirement is also much less than over summer but some water should still be made available to animals grazing stockpiled forage.

Also, analyze a sample of stockpiled forage for minerals and consider providing a mineral mix to animals for any mineral at low levels in the stockpiled forage.