The drought that hit much of the state this summer added new wrinkles in forage and water management for many livestock producers.
Some areas have received timely rains to keep forages growing, while others have been feeding hay and only recently received rain to start brown, dormant pastures growing again.
Whatever your situation, don’t let livestock overgraze pastures before winter dormancy occurs.
Temptation.Some may think leaving livestock on the pastures to harvest all the green grass that is there will decrease the amount of hay necessary to get through the winter.
However, repeatedly grazing grass plants to a very short height before winter dormancy may greatly reduce production in the spring and require more total hay to be fed since spring growth will be much slower.
Critical time. Fall growth is a critical time in a perennial grass plant’s production because it is the beginning of growth stages of next year’s plants.
The crown of the plant and portions of the roots remain active throughout the winter, using carbohydrates that were stored during the last days before dormancy.
At grazing meetings, we frequently talk about rest periods for forage plants after livestock or machinery defoliate the plants. This is to allow plants time to regrow leaf material and recharge or store carbohydrates (plant food) in the roots.
Plants that are heavily defoliated regrow from root reserves until the plant regrows adequate leaf surface to gather sunlight again.
Then photosynthesis takes over to provide needed carbohydrates for growth, and any additional production that occurs is stored in the roots and crown of the plant for future use.
Root storage. Remember though, no storage occurs in the roots until enough leaf growth takes place to provide energy for the new top growth.
This process, or portions of it, is repeated several times during the growing season as long as the plants are permitted enough time for the whole process to take place.
Grazing too soon never lets the roots fill up.
When cold weather closely follows grazing rotations, food reserves will not be replenished before dormancy begins in some paddocks.
If plants are “fully charged” before defoliation, they should make it through winter and begin growth quickly in the spring as soon as temperatures warm.
Weakened. However, if plants have been weakened from continuous grazing in the summer or repeatedly overgrazed this fall, roots that never had a chance to “fill up” will produce a much slower growing plant in the spring.
So, what can we do to eliminate or reduce the weakened plant and empty root reserve scenario?
Correctly rotating pastures during the growing season is the best way, but if you haven’t done too good of a job with that this summer, you may try one of these options:
— Where water is available, pick a paddock or fence off an area to feed in. One that needs a little extra fertility and organic matter in the soil would be a good choice.
Feed hay or combinations of hay and concentrates in that paddock from mid- or late September until about the time frosts stop plant growth in mid/late October.
Seems strange. I know it may not seem right to feed hay that early in the fall when pasture is still available, but keeping livestock in one area to give plants in all other paddocks time to grow can be a good option.
When frosts have stopped or nearly stopped plant growth for the year, move your livestock to other fields that have reached their maximum growth potential, are rested and hopefully have the plant’s root system filled with food.
Resume grazing what has accumulated in the various paddocks to a proper over-wintering height now that growth has stopped. Use paddocks with the most legumes first and those predominantly fescue last.
— Use temporary electric fencing to allow livestock to graze areas where hay was going to be made, rather than using machinery to harvest the forage.
Don’t make hay. Instead of you making hay and hauling it to storage, move livestock into fields where it is feasible and let them do the harvesting.
Also, the high-quality forage the animals now have access to should improve their body condition score as we head into winter.
This is the least expensive time of the year for the producer to put weight back on the cow. Building a fat layer on the animals now provides insulation for cold, wet weather and has many benefits that last through the winter.
Don’t overgraze. Note: Producers should not allow livestock to overgraze meadows. Leaving the proper over-wintering height in each field is necessary to maintain production of next year’s hay crop.
— Producers who have the capability to get water to livestock in several paddocks or livestock to different waterers have another option.
Use hay and standing forage together in small paddocks to extend both products. Much of the forage that is growing right now and what will grow the remainder of this season is high quality and all the nutrients may not be fully used by dry cows.
Delay nature. Slowing the passage of this high-quality product through the rumen using hay is a way to capture more of the nutrients that are available, especially when trying to conserve forage.
Using electric fencing and step-in posts, place hay in a small paddock with standing forage that has had enough time to fill the root system with nutrients. Only provide livestock a small amount of grass each day so they also consume hay to meet their daily needs.
When doing this, back fencing should be used to keep livestock from returning to the grass plants that have been grazed until frosts stop plant growth.
Think about how you can change from your traditional fall routine to make better use of the resources you have available.
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Monroe County, Ohio. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)