Tall fescue is often lambasted for its palatability and toxicosis issues, but now is the time of year when you can take full advantage of one of the species’ most redeeming qualities — the ability to accumulate fall growth, or stockpile as it’s often referred to.
“Feeding hay during the winter months is the single highest expense for cow-calf producers in transition zone states,” notes Chris Teutsch, extension forage specialist at the University of Kentucky. “In many cases, it can make up more than 60% of the total cow-calf budget.”
A proven method to lower those costs is to stockpile tall fescue, which is easily the most abundant forage resource across the mid-South.
“While dry hay is the cornerstone of most winter-feeding programs, grazing stockpiled cool-season grasses in late fall and winter can reduce feed costs by more than 50% per day per cow,” Teutsch says.
The forage agronomist offers the following tips for successful stockpile grazing of tall fescue:
1. Choose a strong tall fescue sod in a field that is well drained. A healthy stand will maximize the yield response from nitrogen applications. Choosing a field that is well-drained will help to ensure that the stockpile can be grazed with minimal pugging damage during the wet winter months.
2. Clip or graze pastures that will be stockpiled to 3 to 4 inches prior to applying nitrogen. Clipping pastures removes old growth and enhances the forage quality of the stockpiled grass.
3. Apply 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre, ideally during mid- to late August and right before a rain event. Applying nitrogen too early can stimulate summer annual weed growth, while applying nitrogen too late lowers dry matter yield.
4. Allow growth to accumulate until mid-December before grazing. If limited grazing is available, feed hay during this accumulation period rather than the winter months.
5. Graze stockpiled pastures that contain legumes first. Legumes deteriorate at a faster rate than grass and should be grazed first to minimize losses.
6. Strip-graze tall fescue to maximize grazing days. Allocating only enough stockpiled grass for two to three days will improve grazing days per acre by 30%.
7. Frost seed legumes on grazed areas. A closely grazed stockpile provides an excellent opportunity to establish legumes in grass-dominated pastures. Broadcasting the seed as the pasture is being grazed can enhance soil-seed contact and increase overseeding success.