Stockpile grazing a viable option

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

With increasing fuel and production costs, more economical and yet still viable alternatives are playing a larger role in conventional agriculture.
Pasture long has been accepted as a source of forage during the summer months. However, with proper management, stockpiled pasture can be a practical and inexpensive source of quality forage throughout the fall and winter months.
Stockpiling pasture is the process of allowing the forage in a field or paddock to accumulate until the growing either has slowed significantly or stopped altogether.
This stockpiled forage then is available for grazing throughout the colder fall and winter until there is permanent snow cover.
Stockpile grazing is chosen primarily for the reduced feed and feeding costs. Animals which are on pasture later in the season also spread their own manure back onto the pasture—further saving the farmer the cost of hauling and spreading manure over the area.
Proper management is the key to successful stockpile grazing. The quality and/or yield of the stockpiled forages can be controlled in much the same manner as first-cut hay.
The initiation date, which is the date at which the pasture is allowed to start to grow and accumulate for the cold months, is exceedingly important.
For instance, an earlier initiation date (late July) can provide a higher yield but somewhat lower quality.
Allowing summer grazing to proceed for a longer period, and pushing back the initiation date to mid-late August, will result in a loss in yield but a gain in quality.
The decision as to when to initiate the stockpiling will depend on various factors, such as the requirements of the livestock that will be grazing the forage, the date which the stockpiled area is required, and the amount of pasture that can be set aside for stockpiling purposes.
Stockpile grazing also can be incorporated into a rotational grazing system, however, it is important to keep in mind that as the grazing season progresses, the winter progresses, as well.
It is beneficial to use the stockpiled pasture furthest away from the barns (or feeding area) first and move progressively closer.
This is to ensure that in the event of an early winter storm, etc., the livestock will be closer to the feeding area and the supplemental feed (if necessary) will not have to be hauled quite as far.
The species selected for a successful stockpile grazing system also are important. In general, the types of forages that should be chosen are the narrow leafed grasses, as they seem to be the best for storing on the stem.
Traditionally, species such as timothy, tall fescue, and bluegrass have been chosen for stockpile grazing.
However, with proper management, the range of stockpile forages can be extended to include annual grasses such as Sorghum-Sudan grass hybrids and even forage brassicas.
Dates to remember
Aug. 24–Cattle sale, Stratton sales barn