Moisture has certainly been abundant in our part of the state this year. Pasture growth did not slow much through August or September, as it often does, so pastures continued to grow at a good pace.
However, new pasture growth is now almost nonexistent because of reduced length of daylight, colder temperatures and frosts. Useable forage is coming to an end in many pastures now and I have seen several producers feeding hay already in the county.
Finish what’s left
Where preparations have been made to leave forage standing, now is a good time to finish what is left in your hay fields and then utilize forage in your stockpiled areas.
November has dried out considerably in our area, compared to October, so the hay fields where soils are firm enough to adequately support livestock should now be used.
Legumes such as alfalfa and clover tend to lose their quality characteristics first when cold weather freezes occur, so use them first. Fields with grass mixed forage should be used next and save the fescue dominated fields/paddocks until last.
Using feed resources in this manner can reduce the amount of hay necessary and still provide adequate nutrition to your livestock.
Try strip grazing
Using electrified polywire and step-in posts to strip graze a field, one can add additional days to their grazing. Studies have shown utilization rates may be increased from maybe 40-50 percent to more than 70 percent just by taking time to move a front wire and limit access.
Each time cows are turned into a new pasture they move around and graze the best forage first. If this area is too large, there is a good amount of forage wasted from urination and defecation while livestock walk around picking and choosing.
If only given enough forage for a few days (maybe three to five days) and then give them access to more, waste can be minimized.
Do the math
Doing a few calculations one can quickly see the savings possible by gaining 20-30 percent in utilization rate. Twenty cows consuming dry matter at a rate of 36 pounds each per day (1,200-pound cows x 3.0 percent of their body weight) and assuming 50 percent utilization, would run out of feed approximately 17 days before the same cows obtaining a 70 percent utilization rate in a 20 acre paddock with 3,000 pounds of forage per acre available at the beginning.
If you have two fields of this size, you could hold off feeding the first bale of hay for more than a month just from getting better utilization of what you have.
If you would only achieve a 10 percent increase in utilization, using the calculations for two fields mentioned above, you would still be able to reduce hay feeding by about 18 days because of the change in how you managed the livestock.
If you are interested in setting up a grazing system to manage your livestock in a different way, contact a member of the Ohio State University Extension Forage Team.