This is the time of the year we need to be thinking about stockpiling forage.
“Stockpiling” is growing forage and allowing it to accumulate by not grazing it until needed at a later date, maybe fall or winter. Stockpiling forages can create a real opportunity to save money with very little time or expense involved.
Stored feed, for the winter months, is generally considered to be the most expensive part of feeding livestock throughout the year. Stockpiling forage in the field and moving livestock to the feed source generally runs one-half to one-fourth the cost of feeding stored hay.
Stockpiling grass and legumes. Late July or August is when producers in Ohio need to start preparing fields for stockpiling. The timing will be right for many operations this year where hay harvest was delayed and second cutting is just being made or will soon be made.
Choose relatively weed-free fields that have acceptable soil drainage and southern exposure when possible.
Selecting fields. You do not need to start all stockpiling the same day. After a livestock rotation, mechanical clipping, or a harvest of hay, apply 40-50 units of nitrogen per acre. A non-urea based nitrogen is preferred for this application to minimize the risk of nitrogen volatilization at this time of the year due to hot, dry weather.
Fields with fescue, orchardgrass, or legumes are acceptable for stockpiling, but legumes and orchardgrass will not maintain their quality as long into the winter feeding period. They should be used first when feeding begins.
While fescue is not a popular, or desired grass in the spring and summer with many producers, it is excellent in the fall and winter because it maintains quality longer and becomes more palatable to livestock after numerous frosts and freezes. If you have fields with fescue in them, this would be a good place to try stockpiling.
Meadow regrowth may be a good place to take advantage of late season grazing (“stockpiling”) this year. Taking livestock to this forage and letting them harvest it after hard frosts (November) may be a better option than making hay if temporary or permanent fence can be installed around the fields and a water source is available.
Harvesting this way will be beneficial to the forage plants because the plants will not have to use energy from root reserves for re-growth like they would have done if you had cut in late September or October for hay. Grazing the forage will save you the time and expense of making that last cutting of hay, that is hard to get dry for baling, and be a quality forage for livestock consumption.
Other options. Turnips and other brassica crops are another way to stockpile forage. Brassicas can be used to increase mid-summer forage production, but many producers take advantage of this crop for late fall or early winter grazing since they withstand cold temperatures well.
Brassicas can reach maximum quality in as little as 60 days and produce maximum yield in 70-90 days. A yield of over four tons of dry matter per acre was achieved at the Belle Valley Research Farm when 41/2 pounds of Purple Top turnip seed was broadcast per acre with a hand seeder on a tilled seed bed.
After seeding, the field was cultipacked, and 51 pounds of actual nitrogen (34-0-0) per acre was applied three weeks after planting. Brassicas may also be seeded with a no-till drill after an application of a burn-down herbicide.
Using brassicas as a fall/winter feed source does leave the ground bare after the crop is removed, therefore another crop will need to be planted at some point. If you have a field that needs renovated or an area that is going to be planted in corn or other crop in the spring, this may be the place to take advantage of the additional forage that can be produced with brassicas.
Round bales. Several farm managers in our area once again are using small round bales made with an Allis Chalmers baler or they are kicking out bales from large round balers before they are full size (200-300 pounds). These bales are allowed to remain in the field for use with stockpiled grass.
Reasons for using the smaller bales are to reduce the size of the dead spot area under the bale and eliminate the need of using bale rings during feeding. Mud and trampling around bale feeders occur most often because livestock move to and from the bale numerous times before the entire supply is exhausted. Dominant animals in the herd also intimidate others, making timid animal walk away from the bale several times while trying to feed.
Using more bales, with less quantity in each bale, allows a larger number of animals to feed at one time without walking away. Many producers believe there is a lot of waste using small round bales, but those who are using this system say otherwise.
Mixing stockpiled grass and baled hay allows the animal to “balance” their own ration and livestock will clean-up virtually all forage from the bales as well as the stockpiled grass when fed properly. Lab analysis of the protein in stockpiled grass forage during November and December is often higher than that of stored hay that was made in the summer.
How to feed. Strip grazing all stockpiled feeds will return the highest utilization rate. Like it was stated in this column a few weeks ago, no one would make their entire stored hay crop or a large quantity of silage available to their livestock at one time. There would be a tremendous amount of waste. The same is true in stockpiled forages.
Allowing livestock to have only enough forage for a one- to three-day supply will make good use of the feed. Oftentimes, graziers will place electric fence ahead of time, for two or three feeding periods, then remove the polywire or tape as needed to allow livestock to a new break of forage. This requires very little time and no machinery is needed to do the feeding.
A back wire is not generally needed at this time of year to control over grazing of an area since the plants are in a dormant stage. One exception would be fields with a high percentage of legumes.
Leaving 4-5 inches of growth may reduce the chance of frost heaving and a back wire may be necessary to prevent close grazing.
Summary. Stockpiling forages is cost effective and an easy way to feed livestock. Many producers are able to stockpile enough forage so they don’t have to feed hay until after the first of the year or beyond. A few producers never feed a bale of hay with a tractor during the winter season. Does this sound like something you would like to try?
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent in Monroe County, Ohio. Questions or comments can be in care of Farm and Dairy, P O Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)