Prepare now to extend the fall grazing season

Livestock producers: reduce feed costs by extending the grazing season into the fall and early winter.

Farms grazing beef, sheep and other animals need to act in mid-summer if they wish to extend their grazing seasons for the upcoming fall and winter season. Making plans now to stockpile grass pastures, or to plant annual crops for late season grazing can reduce animal feed costs per day by 30% to 50% for every day grazed compared to feeding hay. At a recent Midwest agricultural conference a university livestock specialist said the most profitable beef cow/calf farms in his state are the ones that feed the least amount of winter hay. With the escalating price of fuel, machinery and labor, it is more economical to let the animals harvest the forage and distribute the manure as long as possible in the late fall and early winter rather than to mechanically harvest hay and then feed it.

There are many options that can be used to insure there will be forage to graze late in the fall.

Set aside or stockpile some current pasture starting in July or early August. Don’t graze it until October or later. This option requires enough current pasture acres to afford to set some aside for the fall while still having some to graze. What many farms do is utilize grassy hay fields where first or second cutting was harvested and stockpiled regrowth for fall grazing. Often trucking cattle to more distant fields or to rented lands is a practice used in late summer to early fall, allowing the home pastures to stockpile for a November or December grazing. These stockpiled acres, if mainly grass, will require a nitrogen application in mid- to late-August of approximately 50 lbs. per acre of N in a stable form like ammonium sulfate or a slow-release, protected urea to enhance the fall yield.

Grazing corn stalks in harvested corn fields is one of the lowest cost options of extending the season. The nutritional needs of beef cows without calves are met quite well with the stalks, leaves, husk and grain that are left behind after combining a corn field. Research has shown that under normal field conditions the impact of soil compaction and erosion are minimal and are offset by the cow’s ability to recycle the large quantity of corn residue that today’s high plant populations generate. This reduces spring tillage requirements, lowering fuel costs and leading to more timely planting. All that is required is fencing (can be temporary), and a water supply. Usually .75 – 1.5 acres of stalks are needed per cow per month depending on cow size, cow body condition and the amount of corn residue.

Planting annual crops in late July to early August that will grow well in the cool frosty conditions of fall is another option. The brassicas like turnips and rapeseed are commonly used along with mixtures of small grains like oats, triticale, rye and now even some millets and radishes are being used. These plants grow fast, usually in 70 – 100 days, producing quality forage with significant yields to extend fall grazing. They hold their feed quality well, especially the below ground tubers of turnips, which will stay nutritious most of the winter. Sheep and beef cattle will graze through moderate snow levels of 12 – 18 inches if persuaded to, and it is usually the in-experienced herd manager that gives up on the brassicas before the animals do.

One common planting of an annual mix is a grazing turnip seeded at 2 to 4 lbs. per acre along with 30 lbs. of oats per acre. The oats provide a fiber source that balance out the lush, high quality turnips to maintain better animal rumen function. Planted in late July to early August in a weed free soil, the simplest planting method is to blend the seed with the fertilizer at the mill and broadcast the seed/fertilizer mix in one pass, followed by a cultipacking of the field. For the turnips this shallow covering of the seed with soil is advantageous as when the softball sized tuber matures, over one half of it will be exposed above the soil surface, making it easy for the animals to feed on. Just don’t leave the seed mixed with the fertilizer in the spreader much over six hours as the salt from the fertilizer can burn the seed. Nitrogen is important to turnip growth and about 60 lbs. per acre is needed at planting time (from fertilizer, manure, etc.) and turnips will respond with even more growth if an additional 40 lbs. per acre of nitrogen is broadcast over the top in mid to late September.

A new wrinkle in the annual planting mixes for fall grazing is a cocktail mix of cold tolerant annuals. Pioneered in North Dakota this mix contains a blend of high quality, low-fibrous plants along with some that provide good feed quality while providing higher fiber levels for better animal health. Research at North Dakota State University has shown that these plants seem to have a synergistic effect on each other. When planted together in the mix, these plants actually yield better than when grown separately. After testing many cocktail mixes that included sunflowers, soybeans and cowpeas to name a few, the mix that NDSU deemed to be the most cost effective, and high producing for late fall grazing is one containing: 0.75 lb. of Pasja turnips, 1 lb. of oilseed radish, 15 lbs. of oats and 4 lbs. of foxtail millet, all planted on a per acre basis.

A pasture walk will be held on October 6, 2011 at 6 p.m. at the MSU Kellogg Biological Station Dairy Center with one focus being extending the fall grazing season. One of the highlights of this night will be research conducted at MSU on the use of gibberellic acid on pasture grasses to stimulate additional fall pasture growth.

For more information contact MSU Extension educator Jerry Lindquist by email or toll free at 1-888-678-3464 and type in Osceola County.

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