Most livestock producers make hay during the summer and fall, then feed it during the winter as livestock need feed.
Do you have enough feed for six or seven months? That amount is what we typically prepare for in Ohio because forages will not grow much from mid-October through mid-April.
Storage. The question is: How are you storing the feed for your livestock?
Will you store enough mechanically harvested hay for the full six months or will you use your pastures and hay fields to stockpile forage, letting the livestock do the work to harvest their feed well into the winter?
Making livestock harvest the forage in the field saves wear on machinery as well as the time and labor it takes to mow, rake, bale, haul hay off the field and haul feed out again to feeding areas.
Stockpiling grass forage or growing annual crops such as turnips, oats, or other blends provide additional feed and is a good way to produce inexpensive, high quality forage that can be used in the winter.
Allowing the livestock to graze this forage using strip grazing methods provides high rates of utilization with minimal time and work involved.
Many studies, tests and experiments have checked a variety of forge and or combinations of forages. Nearly all have proven to be less expensive than feeding mechanically harvested and stored hay.
Grazing options. To make grazing options work well, you must provide a few basic things.
Choose well-drained areas that will be able to support livestock grazing and not turn into a muddy mess if wet weather occurs.
Fields with fewer summer annual weeds work better than weedy fields so the nitrogen is used by the grasses rather than vigorously growing weeds which will die at the first frosts causing poorer feed quality.
The fields should be near water or have water piped to the field for livestock to drink.
You may want livestock to graze hay fields now so you do not have to make those last cuttings of hay. This may let permanent pasture fields be the stockpiled areas.
If there are no fences around the field(s) you want livestock to graze, portable electric fence may be used to keep animals where you want them, but they should be trained to this type fence system before using it without a permanent perimeter fence.
August. August is the perfect time of year to start growing these low cost feeds.
No matter if it’s a pasture field or hay field, those comprised of fescue, other grasses or legume/grass mixtures are popular for stockpiling with experienced farm operators. Start with fields that have been recently harvested or grazed.
Apply 40-100 units of nitrogen per acre, dependent on the mix of plant species and the amount of forage you are trying to stockpile.
Numerous studies have shown stimulation of forage growth and higher levels of crude protein occur in stockpiled forage when nitrogen is applied.
Many producers broadcast a urea based nitrogen fertilizer to stockpiled grass and this will work fine. However, timing of the application is important.
Loss of this form of nitrogen, from volatilization during hot humid weather, may occur if one-quarter to one-half inch of rain is not received within a couple of days after application to wash the nitrogen into the soil.
Also, do not spread urea over recently limed areas unless it is incorporated into the soil. Again, nitrogen loss can occur.
Keep livestock from grazing the prepared field(s) approximately 90 days if possible or until the forage is needed.
A minimum of 1.5 to 2 ton of forage per acre should be available at that time for grazing.
Electrified fencing should be used to divide fields or strip graze the forage to maintain a high rate of utilization and reduce waste.
Fields with the greatest amount of fescue should be used last because fescue maintains quality during cold weather better than other grasses and becomes more palatable to livestock after several frosts.
Annual crops. Annual crops are also being used by many producers to extend their livestock’s grazing season. More labor and preparation are necessary with these crops than stockpiled grass, but greater tonnage may be harvested per acre.
Turnips seeded at a rate of 2-4 pounds per acre or oats planted at two bushel per acre in prepared fields can yield 6,000-10,000 pounds of dry matter per acre in a reasonable production year.
These crops, too, may be started in August for use later in the year. Rationing these crops using electric fence and strip grazing is a must to keep animals from trampling and wasting the forage.
Additional dry matter such as stockpile grass or hay should also be offered when grazing these crops to maintain adequate fiber in the diet.
Stockpiled grasses and annual forages are a real asset to have as part of a winter feeding program.
Laboratory tests often show forages standing in the field during January are higher quality than first cutting hay that was harvested in the summer.
Using combinations of hay and stockpiled forage or annual crops, nutritional needs of many classes of animals may be met without purchasing grain concentrates.
Start. If you have never used stockpiled grass or annual forages as a winter feed source, this should be the year you start.
Many grazing groups arrange field days that illustrate the practices mentioned above as well as other options. Visit them to see variations and get ideas that may work for you.
(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.)