Researchers at the Noble Research Institute have been involved in a long-term study that is examining ways to extend the number of grazing days and reduce feed supplementation for the cow herd.
One means that is being used involves stockpiling bermudagrass for fall and winter grazing.
“The queen of stockpiled forage is tall fescue,” says James Rogers, an associate professor at Noble. “But in the Southern Plains region, where warm-season perennials dominate, we need to take advantage of what we have to work with. Our cow-calf study is bermudagrass-based, so that is what we stockpile.”
A similar situation exists in many parts of the U.S. where cool-season grasses like tall fescue won’t persist.
“For any fall stockpiling system to work, you have to match the amount of forage your land area can produce to the animal demand,” Rogers says. “In our system, we allocate 1 acre per cow.”
Rogers explains that they use the cow herd to graze existing spring and summer growth down so that new, fresh growth will occur for fall.
“Stocking rate comes into play at this point,” explains Rogers in a recent issue of Noble’s News and Views newsletter. “You will need enough available pasture for the cow herd to graze until the stockpile becomes available sometime after frost. If the land area is overstocked, available forage may not be in substantial quantities to bridge this gap and nothing will have been gained,” he adds.
Hybrids work best
Not all bermudagrass stockpiles equally. Rogers says they use a hybrid bermudagrass (Midland), which has a higher forage yield potential compared to common bermudagrass.
To enhance forage yield and quality of the stockpiled forage, 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre is applied in late August or September.
“Weather, something we cannot control, is a critical factor in the success of our stockpile system,” Rogers says. “We hit our target of 1 ton of dry matter accumulation some years on some pastures, and other years we don’t.”
To help counteract weather variability, Rogers suggests giving stockpiled bermudagrass as long as possible to grow before it is utilized. In other words, don’t begin stockpiling only a month before the first killing frost.
When grazing stockpiled bermudagrass, Rogers suggests these five tips for maximizing utilization:
1. Ensure standing, leafy forage that is not matted to the ground. This way, the cow herd can graze from the top down.
2. Have an adequate stocking rate to meet the cow herd’s forage demand.
3. Pick stockpiled pastures that are well drained. This will minimize hoof damage to pastures during wet conditions.
4. Constantly monitor forage quantity and quality. When either becomes limiting, pull cows off and move them to cool-season annuals or begin supplementing.
5. Strip graze by utilizing polywire to allocate smaller portions of the pasture. This will minimize forage waste from trampling and better distribute cow urine and manure.