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Field Notes: Grazing stockpiled tall fescue

Valerie Tate

Now is the time to plan for winter grazing! Grazing stockpiled pastures during the winter can reduce feed costs significantly, and can provide high-quality feed well into the winter months.

Ideally, select pastures that are pure stands of tall fescue and relatively weed-free. Tall fescue is the best forage to stockpile for winter grazing because the upright growth habit and waxy coating on the leaves make it less susceptible to freeze damage than other forages. Legumes and broadleaf weeds break up the canopy and allow cold temperatures to infiltrate deeper into the canopy causing quality to deteriorate earlier in the winter than pure tall fescue pastures. Graze these pastures first, leaving the pure, weed-free fescue stands for later in the winter.

Prepare pastures by grazing or mowing to a four-inch stubble height. Apply nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 50-80 pounds per acre by mid-August. On average, tall fescue will produce 20 pounds of dry matter for every pound of nitrogen applied in August. Yield can be much higher when moisture is not limiting.

Ammonium nitrate or polymer-coated urea are the best sources of nitrogen fertilizer to apply in August to reduce nitrogen losses due to volatilization. Ammonium sulfate can also be applied. Fall applications of nitrogen fertilizer are not as detrimental to the survival of legumes in the stand as spring nitrogen applications.

The quantity and quality of the forage available will decline as the winter progresses. Graze stockpiled pasture which have been heavily fertilized early in the season in order to get the greatest return on your fertilizer dollar investment. Utilization of the forage can be increased by strip grazing. Start grazing the pasture close to the water source and progressively provide more pasture to the animals every three to seven days.

Cattle can readily graze through several inches of snow, but ice can significantly affect their ability to graze.

For more information, contact Valerie Tate, agronomy specialist for the University of Missouri Extension by email at tatev@missouri.edu or by phone at 660-895-5123. University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.