Plan Now to Extend the Grazing Season – A hay feeding period suspected of being too long, is too long

August 5, 2022

I’ve noticed that animals are much more efficient forage harvesters than anything we humans have come up with so far. We spend a tremendous amount of money in equipment, fuel, and labor cutting, curing, tedding, raking, rolling, transporting, storing, and feeding hay. Seems much more efficient to watch that ruminant animal walk around the pasture and graze!

Now of course some hay feeding is inevitable for the vast majority of livestock producers in Tennessee. However, I’m afraid that some of us just accept that we have always fed hay 5-6 months out of the year and aren’t proactive in trying to shorten the number of hay feeding days. With hay prices higher than ever, it’s a great time to give some thought on how to get extra grazing this fall and shorten that hay feeding window. Three ways come to my mind as being legitimate means of extending the grazing season:

1) Stockpiling – When we refer to stockpiling forage, we are talking about storing up grass to be used in the future. Using stockpiled forages allows animals to graze well into the winter months. Rather than feeding hay in November and December, animals are allowed to graze on pasture which is more efficient and cheaper.

2) Grazing Small Grains – Small cereal grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley can be used to get more grazing both later in the fall and earlier in the spring. These annuals, along with other annual species such as crimson clover and annual ryegrass, can provide better nutrition than most of the hay we feed as well. Imagine being able to graze annuals a couple of weeks longer this fall and a couple of weeks earlier next spring. That’s an entire month you’re not feeding hay!

3) Culling – Fewer animals per acre means more grass will be available for those that are left. Many producers ramped up culling this spring and summer as the price for these animals strengthened. If you have animals that are not producing up to your expectations, evaluate whether you can afford to feed them this winter or if you’d be better off putting those resources into your high performers.

Despite the advancements in harvesting technology, livestock are still better harvesters of forage than anything on the market. Every day you can allow an animal to graze rather than hauling feed to them is money in your pocket. Over the next few weeks, we will look at each of these three options in more depth. In the meantime, please reach out to the University of Tennessee Extension office if we can be of help at 615-735-2900.