Stockpiling Forages for Late Fall and Early Winter Grazing

— Written By and last updated by

Livestock producers can take advantage of late summer and early fall growing conditions to obtain high quality pasture for late fall and early winter grazing. This practice is called stockpiling.

The best grasses for stockpiling are cool-season grasses as they will retain good quality and remain palatable into winter. Orchardgrass, bluegrass and tall fescue are good grasses to stockpile under our fall conditions. Warm season grasses like common Bermuda and even crabgrass can also be utilized for fall and winter grazing, but their growth curve is tailing off during fall, so they need a longer time of rest to provide winter grazing.

Late July, August and early September is the time to begin stockpiling for fall and winter use. The first step is removing cattle from the pasture, then apply the necessary fertilizer and allow the grass to accumulate growth until November or December. Be sure to reduce summer growth to 3 to 4 inches by grazing or clipping before fertilization, to insure your stockpile production comes from new grass growth. Use a soil test to determine if you need to add phosphorous, potassium or lime, as these are best added in the fall. To achieve a good stockpile growth, top-dress at a rate of 40 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre on bluegrass and orchardgrass, and 40 to 100 pounds on tall fescue before August 15. Research indicates that producers can increase dry matter production by 20 and 25 pounds per acre for each pound of nitrogen applied.

The source of nitrogen used is important. Ammonium nitrate is the most efficient fertilizer to use for stockpiling, because it is not subject to volatilization or leaching into the atmosphere. However, ammonium nitrate is becoming scarce, and it may be cost prohibitive. Research has shown that urea is about 79 to 89 percent as effective as ammonium nitrate, but urea can be just as effective if you use a urease inhibitor.

To maximize stockpiled forage use, be sure to graze the grass-clover pastures shortly after the first frost. Pure grass stands will retain their palatability and quality much longer into the winter so graze these last. Also, be sure to maintain a high stocking rate to prevent waste as a result of trampling. In this time of high input costs, stockpiling cool-season grasses can extend the grazing season, reduce winter hay feeding, and provide a good return of high quality forage for each pound of nitrogen applied while providing your cowherd with an ideal place for wintering and calving.