Think about winter feed needs as fall grazing comes to end

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Vollborn Cattle
With over 300 acres of rolling pastureland in Gallia County, the Vollborn cattle grazing in the valley create a picturesque scene. In order to keep their land vibrant, the Vollborns developed feed pads and pasture roadways to combat the muddy conditions that are common in the area, use minimal tillage and have developed various waterways and natural springs. (Catie Noyes photo)

For the first time last week, it really felt like the growing season was coming to an end. Cooler temperatures and shorter days have slowed forage growth. Some may already be feeding hay; some may still have several months of grazing remaining. When I mowed the lawn last week, I was wondering if I will need to do it again, and at the same time, I was wondering if I will be able to graze the field I was moving cattle out of one more time. 

Over the years, I have seen cool-season grasses, especially fescue continue to grow in the fall, so there may still be an opportunity for a little more growth but probably not much. I dug up some old research we did on stockpiling fescue from over 30 years ago in southeast Ohio. When we applied nitrogen on the first of November, we did not see a significant response in yield, but we did see a response from a late September application. At this point, we likely need to figure out how to best use what we have. 

Things to consider

Some basic things we need to keep in mind is: do you have enough pasture and stored feed to make it through the winter? If you are calving, kidding or foaling in the spring, we need to feed accordingly; provide poorer quality hay first, save the best for last. Finally, not considering quality, feed hay most exposed to the weather first. 

Short on feed

If you do not have enough feed for the winter, now is a time to figure out your options. I knew last year I would be short on hay. To compound the problem, when I started to feed, quality was very good and the cattle were eating much faster than previous years. I started to supplement with corn in January to stretch out my supplies. From an energy perspective, a pound of corn will replace two pounds of hay for a portion of the diet which will help, especially when calculating the cost of purchased feed. 

Stretching pastures

If you still have some good pasture left, maybe you could stretch it out by feeding some of your poorest quality hay with it for a more balanced diet. I plan on setting out round bales in several paddocks after my last rotation to have them ready to feed when pastures run out. If it gets wet, maybe I can reduce tearing up the ground. If the ground gets really soft, I try to have some square bales to take out with the utility vehicle when needed. 

Calving

If you are calving in the late winter/early spring, is there an ideal location to do this that will not get as muddy as other fields? I start calving in early March and I stockpile a hayfield on the hill after I take two or three cuttings of hay off. When I move the cows to the field in early March, there is a lot of grass and a thick sod, making it ideal for calving. If I am lucky, I do not have to feed them any more hay for the season. I move them off towards the end of the month before the cows tear up the field, start the pasture rotation for the year, and let the field grow for hay season. 

As mentioned, if you have some hay exposed to the weather and some undercover, feed the hay exposed first. Under Ohio conditions, we can expect 15-40% hay loss with hay stored outdoors. Having said that, the good quality hay I fed last year was net wrapped and almost all of it was consumed by the cattle. When grass started growing where I had the bale rings last winter, grass came right up where the inside of the ring was. Only where the cattle stood to eat was a little slow to grow. 

Having goals

Currently, my goals are not to have to feed hay until early December, have some round bales set out and ready to feed, then move the spring calving cows to a stockpiled field the first of March, keeping most of my winter feeding to under 90 days. For next year, I hope to get it down to 60 days. 

Think it can be done? It is not unusual to hear from grazers around the area that they have made it into February without having to feed hay, which is my long-term goal. When you consider the cost of making hay and purchasing feed, and the time and effort to get it to our livestock, I think that it is a great goal. For now, with my luck, I probably will not be able to graze the field I just moved cattle out of again but will probably have to mow my lawn two more times.

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Chris Penrose is an OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources and 4-H Youth Development in Morgan County.

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