An extension educator’s grazing wish list

Holstein dairy cows grazing
Farm and Dairy file photo

As producers, we are often outside enjoying our livestock, rotating paddocks or knocking off a few items from the never-ending to-do list. As a livestock producer who grazes cattle and sheep, I have learned first-hand that there is never a “solve-all” answer to many questions.

As a county agriculture and natural resources extension educator, I can share knowledge and research trials pointing to where our industry is heading. One of the most interesting questions I received this year was, “What is your grazing wish list?” With this question, the conversation entailed some strategies livestock producers should consider for management-intensive grazing.

Stockpiled fescue

Chris Penrose, agriculture and natural resources educator and mentor within the Ohio State University Extension system, explains it best. There are many cool-season grasses that we graze throughout Ohio. However, many studies have demonstrated that fescue can maintain its quality throughout winter.

Another consideration that Penrose stated and is also quick to point out is that it is easy to increase potential yield with nitrogen fertilizer. This allows producers to stockpile fescue to reduce feeding costs and keep livestock moving throughout stockpiled paddocks in the year’s colder months. Another production point about why stockpiled fescue should also make your grazing wish list is it reduces the need for stored forages.

As we all experienced in southern Ohio and many other areas this summer, dry conditions negatively impacted hay yields. Late-season moisture allowed forage growth for many producers to go ahead and make hay into October. If stockpiling had been at the forefront of the producer’s management plan, inputs such as diesel fuel, labor, machinery and storage costs would be reduced because livestock would be harvesting the forages.

Sacrifice factory

This is a two-part item that I always wish for producers to have. The first component of this item is a sacrifice lot. A sacrifice lot can be described as one field or paddock where livestock are contained during adverse weather conditions throughout winter. This allows most of the winter damage to affect soil, grasses and legumes in one area.

After battling winter conditions and moving into spring, the next component of a sacrifice factory is to build this paddock back into a productive factory. This grass factory can utilize summer annuals to improve soil health by introducing forage varieties such as pearl millet and sorghum Sudan, which can aerate and scavenge for nutrients with their root systems.

Or if there is a need for pasture renovation to level or correct damage from using this as a sacrifice lot, a consideration for teff grass could be made. Teff grass requires good seed-to-soil contact for effective germination, which makes this an ideal candidate if tillage is required, and you could make stored forage or graze the teff grass in this factory setting.

Please note that this strategy will need another seeding come fall time to make the sacrifice factory into a productive field or paddock again. Working with this strategy means you will need to consider not using the same field or paddock as a sacrifice factory every year; this requires detailed planning to understand the placement of fencing and water systems to be successful.

Supplementation strategy

My last point to consider is winter forage supplementation. We often deal with the challenges of not possessing enough acres to incorporate a sacrifice factory and the need to make or buy hay is present. If you cannot integrate making stored forages with your current arrangement, consider these tips for your wishlist.

Developing a relationship with a hay producer is vital; once that is established, you will have a reliable source of stored forages. Producers could also consider buying auction hay in your area, which is in short supply. With this consideration, consult your agriculture and natural resources extension educator to start a discussion about what factors you should consider when buying hay.

When talking with producers, these three points are always at the top of my wish list for them. There are many options for management, intensity and grazing. Working with your county’s agriculture and natural resources extension educator is always a great place to find information for your grazing questions. Ohio State University Extension also offers many outlets for online information; to see those, please visit, and

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