August is the perfect time to begin stockpiling forages for fall and winter

Gene Schriefer
Photo taken on Dec. 1 of stockpiled cover crop for grazing.Dec. 1

The growing season in this region is roughly 180 days, the grazing season can be much longer. Grazing managers can utilize their pastures for that length of time, or they can stockpile graze or deferred graze, their paddocks, grow it now and graze at some later date.

Growing a stockpile of forage can stretch grazing out for more months of the year into November, December or even January if snows do not get too deep. Grazers are also using stockpiling heading into summer slump periods. Think of it as standing hay. 

 I’ve long advocated for learning to grow and stockpile grass for future grazing into Fall even early winter in some cases, the less stored feeds fed thereby lower the annual feed costs/cow (or sheep!)

Feed costs, more specifically stored feed costs, represent the livestock producers’ single largest expense. At current local average hay prices, $170/ton, it will cost $2.55/head/day in feed costs alone to carry a 1200 lb beef cow, this cost doesn’t include any other expenses. Grazing would cost about $0.60/head/day, or $1.95/head/day advantage.  If I can learn to stockpile forage, and reduce my hay feeding by a single month, I’d save ~$58.50/cow. 

August is the perfect time to begin stockpiling forages for Fall and Winter. 

With our perennial pastures, if we do not have a strong legume content (50% or more) pasture can become nitrogen deficient, an application of nitrogen either commercial or as manure can provide a boost in Fall grass growth. With taller growing forages, like orchradgrass or Brome we see nearly a 20:1 response, assuming there is adequate soil moisture. Perhaps the finest grass for stockpiling is Tall Fescue, while not a favorite for some grazers it’s quality and ability to stockpile is second to none. 

Any day I do not have to haul manure is good day, and any day I don’t have to feed hay is good day, this reduces costs and saves labor to work on other priorities. By allowing 45-60 days of regrowth and rest at the end of the growing season, allows the plant to store adequate carbohydrates (stored energy) which enable the plant to begin growing rapidly next spring, assuming we do not graze this below 3” over winter. Tall forage growing into September and October shades out winter annual weeds.

On crop ground, we can also seed a small grain, forage oats grow very strongly in Fall, this can be mixed with brassica’s or winter legume such as peas. Seeding by mid- August can produce very high-quality forage.  Alternatively mixing a winter grain (wheat, rye, triticale) with the oats would provide less Fall forage, but we also have forage early next Spring as the winter grains begin growing well before our pastures will. 

Utilizing this stockpile is best accomplished with strip grazing, setting up your portable electric fence to provide enough forage for a day or two. The larger the area, the more trampling will occur. Strip grazing will also help the livestock more evenly distribute their manure across the field. 

Developing a stockpile often means running fewer head but grazing more days.   As you reduce head, your fixed costs/head increases. That is the very nature of fixed costs, those total costs don’t change with enterprise size. What improves is our margin profit/head over direct costs. If we can graze enough days of the year we may start to question if we need the overhead costs in owning haying equipment, by reducing overhead costs and improving per head margin, our profit picture often improves. 

Gene Schriefer

Gene Schriefer is an Ag Educator for Extension UW-Madison

UW Extension