When it comes to winter feed for beef herds, applying a pound of nitrogen (N) to pastures in August gives a good return.

A pound of nitrogen fertilizer makes about 20 lbs of forage dry matter, said Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension specialist beef nutritionist. He spoke at an Aug. 9 field day at the University of Missouri Greenley Memorial Research Center, Novelty.

It’s hard to beat stockpiled fescue pasture – it's easy to feed and offers good nutrient value, said the University of Missouri Extension specialist.

“This is something you can take home and use now,” Sexten told five wagonloads of beef producers. “Mid-August until Sept. 1 is the time to clip or graze pastures down to a 4" height.”

Then apply about 50 lbs/acre N and wait for fall rains to activate growth.

“It will rain again,” Sexten assured herd owners who have survived a prolonged hot, dry summer. “I just don’t know when, or how much. It will rain.”

Don't wait for rains before applying fertilizer, he warned. “The early growth is the fastest. Later in the season, grass grows slower.”

With N at 55 cents per pound, a price mentioned by a visitor as a current local cost, the feed will cost less than three cents per pound of dry matter.

If you can buy hay for less than $50/ton, that would be competitive, Sexten calculated. “However, it will be hard to find hay with the nutrient content of stockpiled grass.

“A challenge with stockpiled forage is if rains are delayed. Alternative winter feeds may be needed,” Sexten added. “Consider a balance of stockpile, hay or supplement such as DDGS (dried distillers grains).

“People will say they don’t have enough acres to set any aside ungrazed for 75 days. You don’t have to think of stockpile grass as the sole source of nutrients of the herd through the winter. Think of stockpile as a supplement. It can provide protein and energy lacking in a lot of hay put up this year.

“Then use an electric fence to open a strip of pasture for grazing – just enough to supply supplemental needs of the diet.”

A hot wire makes for efficient use of stockpile. “If you turn 100 cows on 100 acres of stockpile, they will stomp half of it into the ground. Opening a narrow strip allows the herd to graze and not waste grass.

At the current cost of DDGS, fall grass is a less expensive supplement for the winter hay, he added.

Sexten uses a grazing wedge to inventory and monitor grazing paddocks at the MU Beef Research Farm, Columbia. Beef producers are now using the software, available on the MU Web site, to visualize how much forage is available in all paddocks.

“The wedge shows how little grass is left in the last paddock grazed and how much is in the next paddock to be grazed,” Sexten said. The graph should be a wedge. “If it is a flat line, that means all paddocks are overmature, or short on grass,” he added.