What to do if winter feed is short

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By now, most first cutting hay has been made and I have heard that some farmers have had good yields and others have not. If you are one that will be short on hay, there are several things you can do to have enough for the winter.

Fertilizing

Besides purchasing feed, is fertilizing your hay and/or pastures an option right now? Fertilizing hay fields now can provide additional yield on remaining cuttings this year.

When I talk to farmers about what type to use, I always ask if they want to favor legume growth or grass growth. If you want more legume growth, limit the amount of nitrogen in the mix. If you want more grass growth, add more nitrogen. I fertilized two weeks ago after I finished first cutting with a low nitrogen fertilizer, and I have seen a tremendous response so far with more clover growth and a likely larger second cutting than my first cutting.

In a month or so, it will be a perfect time to start stockpiling fields for fall and winter grazing. This is when you make your last grazing or clipping of a field and let it grow to graze later in the year. The addition of nitrogen, usually around 50 pounds/acre can increase yields up to a ton.

When considering this option, consider the cost of the fertilizer to the cost of purchasing hay and the time involved with each option. Predominately fescue and orchardgrass fields stockpile the best, and orchardgrass should be grazed first, usually before the end of the year or sooner based on weather conditions.

Other options

What are some other options? Grazing corn stalks is a great option for feed this fall if you have access to corn fields. The sooner you can get livestock on the fields after harvest, the better the quality and utilization will be.

Finally, there are some things you could plant in the next few months. Small grains and brassicas are good options. Cereal rye and oats can make great feed for grazing in the fall and winter. Generally speaking, oats work better for grazing in the fall but there has been success grazing in the winter as well. A couple bushels of bin run oats seeded in August can provide grazing later in the year, and what is left will die off prior to spring next year.

Cereal rye

Cereal rye is an option for grazing in December and again when things start to green up next year. It will continue to grow like wheat and eventually produce seed next year. This can provide a crop next spring after grazing of grain, straw or hay as it will do all it can to mature.

The only issue I have had growing oats or cereal rye for fall and winter grazing is the severe grazing pressure deer can put on the crop if you have many of them in your area.

Turnips

Then there are brassicas, the most common is turnips. There are many forage type turnips available as the tops and bulbs can both be grazed. If you cannot find forage turnips, the garden variety purple top turnips will also work just fine. The tops generally have 16-18% protein and the bulbs 8-10% protein.

If you will be short on feed this year, they can be a great option. I have seen yields of over five tons per acre. That is more than most productive hay fields produce in a year and turnips reach maximum yields in 90 days or less.

The time to plant is in late July (I recommend July 25 in Southern Ohio, so you can adjust accordingly based on your location). The key is to have them grazed before temperatures reach 20 degrees or less. If your fertility is acceptable, all you need is two to four pounds of seed per acre and 50 pounds of nitrogen. I prefer no-till to conventional tillage to reduce damage to the soil when grazing.

Get creative

If you want to get creative, you can do a combination of these options; several are very low cost such as stockpiling and grazing corn stalks. I have seen oats, cereal rye and turnips flown on corn fields prior to harvest with varying levels of success. A field with corn stalks small grains and/or turnips can provide a lot quality feed for an extended period of time.

The final options are to cull unproductive livestock to stretch hay supplies, buy additional hay or even supplement with corn and reduce the amount of hay fed each day. If we see problems on the horizon, the sooner we devise a plan and act on it, the better off we will be.

We have time to fertilize, stockpile, plant and purchase feed to have an ample supple for the winter months, but the sooner we act, the better off we will be. As Mark Wahlberg said in Deepwater Horizon, “Landing a plane as you run out of fuel is not a good plan” and running out of feed the last day before grazing season starts is not a good plan either!

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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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