Forage Options for Fall & Winter (August 2010) - Pasture [Skip to Content]

Illinois Livestock Trail
Forage Options for Fall & Winter (August 2010)
by Dean Oswald - Animal Systems Educator

Livestock and hay producers have again been challenged by weather conditions in 2010. Harvesting high quality hay has been a troubling issue this summer. Why should livestock owners pursue fall and winter grazing? 1) Lower costs. Stored feed accounts for more than 25% of production costs and is two to three times more expensive than pasture on a per day or per animal basis. 2) Less Labor. Less labor is required for grazing animals than providing stored feed. Manure removal is associated with an enclosed feeding facility. 3) Weather is less a concern with grazing than hay production. Animals can graze even through several inches of snow. 4) High quality forage can lead to improved animal performance. Animal performance is usually enhanced under managed grazing situations. What can be done (TODAY) to plan for fall and winter grazing? 1) Start to stockpile cool season forages this week. 2) Line up a pilot to aerial seed annuals into standing corn by August 15-20th. 3) Plan to use crop residues to reduce stored hay needs. 4) Consider grazing dormant alfalfa or other hay fields. Stockpiling cool season forages should begin about 70 days prior to a killing frost….check the date for your location. Delaying will result in higher forage quality but lower the total per acre yield. Start stockpiling tall fescue or orchardgrass by haying or clipping a grazed pasture. Apply 50 lbs. of nitrogen per acre and let the forage accumulate till crop residues are grazed. This may generate 2,000 to 3,000 lbs. of forage per acre. A field research study (Oswald, Staff, Price - 2005) showed crude protein 16.03, TDN 69.27, RFV 132 in late January. Grazing management is important to reduce waste. Strip graze for best results. 50 to 60% can be lost if unmanaged. Animals will graze through considerable snow but need supplementation when icy. The cost of stockpiled grass is just over twenty cents per cow per day. Illinois has abundant crop residue that can greatly stretch the grazing season. Corn crop residues usually represent about half of the pre-harvest plant dry matter. In other words: corn producing 120 bushels/A (7,200 pounds) of corn grain will yield about 3-4 ton of roughage dry matter/A. Depending upon the grazing method and stocking rate cows will consume about 25-30% of the available residue and still leave enough to prevent soil erosion. Crop residues are the least expensive feed source because most expenses are charged against the row crop enterprise. Corn crop residues cost about 5 cents per day to graze. For each acre of cornstalks grazed about 1,000 lbs. of hay will be saved. (Russell – Iowa State University). Quality of crop residues can be greatly enhanced by aerial seeding annuals like oats or cereal ryegrass. This should be accomplished by mid August to obtain the best growth. Spring oats will provide more fall growth and will winter kill in December. Cereal rye may be a better choice if spring grazing is needed. Use caution to avoid grass tetany when grazing cereal crops in the spring and fall feed magnesium oxide in the mineral mix. Dormant alfalfa or other hayfields may be a grazing option in the fall if they are allowed to accumulate for about 6 weeks before a killing frost to replenish root carbohydrate reserves. Alfalfa is considered to enter dormancy after several hours at or below 26 degrees (F). The forage material should be allowed to dry about 3 days after the killing frost prior to grazing to reduce the chance of bloat. Care should be taken to leave 4 inches or more of stubble to catch and hold snow to reduce heaving and winter damage to the crop next year. For additional information ask for the publication: Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs- Ball, Ballard, Kennedy, Lacefield and Undersander. Available at University of Illinois Extension offices.

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