For pasture-based livestock enterprises, stockpiling forage provides an option to reduce stored feed costs. Forage is stockpiled by simply letting forage grow and deferring grazing until after the growing season is done. Typically, forages are stockpiled by taking a last grazing pass or clipping anytime in the month of August. Adding some nitrogen, generally 45 to 50 pounds/acre can boost stockpiled yields and crude protein content of the forage.
Stockpiled forages are generally grazed in the late fall through about the mid-winter period. The cool season grass species best suited to stockpiling is tall fescue. Tall fescue retains its quality longer than other cool season species, and it is not uncommon to see stands of stockpiled tall fescue being grazed in February and March. If orchardgrass is stockpiled, the recommendation is to begin grazing by late fall and plan to finish grazing by the end of December and usually not any later than mid-January.
The quantity and quality of stockpiled forage is dependent upon three main factors: when stockpiling begins, amount and timing of a nitrogen application, and the weather. The greatest quantity of stockpiled forage is accumulated by beginning to stockpile by August 1, adding 50 pounds of nitrogen/acre and receiving timely rains to keep forage growing. Under these conditions, it is not uncommon to grow an additional 2000 to 3000 pounds of dry matter forage per acre. Crude protein content could be in the 13 to 15 % range when grazing begins in November and will decline into the winter months. Under the same conditions of nitrogen application and rainfall, stockpiling that starts in late August is likely to only produce another 1000 to 1500 pounds of dry matter forage. However, crude protein content can be several units higher, 15-17% and quality will decline a little slower than forage that was stockpiled from the beginning of August.
The biggest risk factor with stockpiling forage is weather. Without adequate soil moisture and rainfall, additional dry matter accumulation is limited and the cost of applying nitrogen is not recovered. However, if moisture is not limiting, there is an opportunity to reduce stored feed costs due to fewer days of feeding hay and in years like this one, stretching current hay inventories. In some situations, it could be the difference between having to find and purchase some high-priced hay vs. no additional hay purchase. In grazing schools, we say that it is about three times more expensive to mechanically harvest and store a forage as compared to letting livestock graze the forage. Stockpiling can extend the grazing season and provide that favorable economic advantage.
Another advantage of stockpiling forage is protecting the plant from harvest, and specifically overgrazing, during the fall. Fall is a critical time for perennial forage plants to build up carbohydrate reserves that allow them to overwinter and that allow the plant to start vigorous growth the following growing season. The only way plants can do this is through photosynthesis. Therefore, it is important that plants have four to six inches of leafy growth to capture sunlight and maximize photosynthesis in the fall of the year. From this perspective, stockpiling is good for plant health as well as then providing deferred grazing after the growing season.
A common question regarding use of stockpiled forage is, what is the end of the growing season? I like to use soil temperature as a guide to answer this question. Our cool season grasses are essentially dormant when soil temperatures reach 40 degrees F and new regrowth after this point is not dependent upon or influenced by remaining leaf growth. At this point then, that remaining leaf tissue can be grazed off without concern to leave a leaf residue for regrowth purposes. However, even though the take half leave half principle of grazing management is no longer a concern, forage utilization of stockpiled forage is increased by limiting access or allocation, just as it would during the growing season. Thus, restricting by fencing the forage allotment to one to two days will provide higher forage utilization rates as compared to allowing a five to seven-day forage allotment.
Contact the Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722 for more information about grazing management and/or stockpiling forage.
Pricing Standing Forage
One of the questions more commonly asked this year regards pricing standing forage. In this situation, the buyer does the harvesting, transport and storage of the forage crop. How does this price, paid at the field for the standing crop, differ from the price of a forage purchased at a hay auction? A new fact sheet, along with a spreadsheet calculator aid, walks buyers through the process of determining the price of a forage purchased as standing in the field. It is available on-line at https://forages.osu.edu/news/pricing-standing-forage-field. Contact me at the Wayne County Extension office (330-264-87220) if you need me to provide you with a hard copy of the fact sheet.
Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
CFAES provides research and related educational programs to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis. For more information, visit cfaesdiversity.osu.edu.