UT Extension: Extending the Grazing Season – Stockpiling

August 12, 2022

Last week we talked about the importance of letting your animals do the harvesting of forage, as opposed to feeding purchased feed or hay. One of the best ways to extend grazing later in the fall and early winter is to stockpile forage.

Stockpiling simply means to store up a supply for future use. When we refer to stockpiling forage, we are talking about storing up grass to be used in the future. In a way, farmers already stockpile when they harvest and store hay. However, when you hear an Extension specialist, farmer, or other agriculture professional talk about stockpiling, they are talking about saving grass for later, without the need for a disc mower, tedder, rake, baler, or barn.

Using stockpiled forages allows animals to be grazed 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.

While other grasses can be stockpiled, tall fescue is best suited for this practice since it makes a lot of its growth right before winter and it holds its quality over time better than other forage crops. Stockpiling involves a simple 4-step process:

1. Graze or mow the grass down to 3 or 4 inches in August.

2. When tall fescue growth begins in the fall, apply nitrogen at the rate of 60 lb/acre.

3. Keep the animals off the pasture as long as possible to allow grass growth to accumulate.

4. If possible, strip graze with a moveable electric fence to avoid waste.

So how much will this practice save you and will it pay for you to do it? Obviously, rainfall plays a big part in the amount of fall growth, but generally speaking, stockpiling will give you an extra 1 to 2 tons of dry matter per acre. Let’s assume you are feeding 5X5 rolls with an average amount of dry matter of 1,000 lbs. Also assume you get an average yield on your stockpiled fescue of 1.5 tons per acre.

If you were to dedicate 20 acres of pasture to stockpiling fescue in this scenario, you’d have 30 tons of additional forage (20 acres X 1.5 tons per acre) during the winter. That is equivalent to 60 of those 5X5 rolls. The livestock will trample some of that fescue in the field and waste it, but they’d waste some in a hay ring too. If you paid $80/roll for that hay, that is $4,800 you saved in hay cost, plus savings in storage and feeding costs. Even if they only utilize 75% of the stockpiled grass, that is still over $3,600 in hay savings.

Now, how much did it cost to stockpile the fescue? If you use Urea to apply your 60 units of N it would cost you about $1,000 for those 20 acres. Even after you add in some costs for temporary fencing, you’re still saving money when compared to feeding hay. Add to that the fact that the stockpiled fescue is often higher quality than they hay that would have been fed and it makes stockpiling look like an even better option.

Livestock can harvest grass much more efficiently than we can. Letting them harvest stockpiled fescue in the winter is a practice that pays because it extends the grazing season and minimizes winter hay feeding, while still providing high-quality forage. If you have questions about stockpiling or other pasture topics, give me a call at 615-735-2900 to set up a visit.