Fall is just around the corner and that means that grass will soon slow down or stop growing and we get to begin the hay feeding we dream about all summer. Whether you have cattle, horses, sheep, goats or other grass eating livestock, now is the time to prepare your pastures for fall and maybe provide some extra grazing days for your animals.
We have had some welcomed rain that has kicked started some thirsty slow growing grass. Getting a little fertilizer on that grass could provide some extra forage to extend your grazing days and reduce your hay feeding days. It is always cheaper to let our livestock harvest the forage than making hay.
Be prepared to give your grass what it needs to recover and produce quality forage. Take the time to soil test your fields so you will know what fertilizers will give you the most bang for your buck. Don’t look at fertilizer as an expense but more as an investment in the future of your grassland. Without the proper nutrients, grass will not be productive and applying proper nutrients this coming year will be very important to help your forage be productive. Come by the extension office to get your soil boxes and help your pastures work more efficiently for you.
Extension livestock budgets show winter feed costs make up 60 percent of total expenses for the typical fall calving cow/calf producer who feeds hay. One way to lower feed costs is by stockpiling forages for winter grazing. Stockpiling is a process of allowing forage to accumulate growth during the late summer and fall to be grazed by cattle instead of the normal practice of feeding hay after the growing season has ended. Most cow/calf producers, who stockpile, will make the last hay cutting or remove cattle from pastures in early to mid-August to allow these fields sufficient time for regrowth before growth stops in the fall. A 3-year study showed that stockpiled tall fescue contained more energy and crude protein than the average grass hay.
All pastures need to be evaluated for stand quality. If the forage is short and thin, you might need to overseed with whatever grass you prefer. You can also overseed with a cool season annual to provide some grazing during the colder months. Evaluate the animal stocking rate as well. Too many mouths to feed on not enough acres leads to a compromised stand of grass, hungry animals, potential erosion and more time & money feeding hay. Know your pastures purpose and limitations. Plan a grazing strategy to get the most productive use from your forage without damaging the stand.
Look at establishing some rotational grazing practices. With rotational grazing you provide livestock a smaller amount of grazeable acres for a limited amount of time and then move them to another pasture. Anytime you can give animals less area to roam they will eat more forage consistently and not waste as much. By moving the animals from pasture to pasture, you allow the forage to rest so it will regrow faster and keep the stand healthy. With rotational grazing, livestock consume the young tender grass as well as the mature forage they would pass over if they had access to the whole pasture. In this program they are not selective so grass is consumed evenly and then the animals are moved to the next pasture.
If you will need to rely on hay this winter make your plans yesterday. As winter gets closer, hay supplies usually get shorter and hay can get hard to find especially close by. Start making contacts to purchase hay. Purchase from reputable folks and know what you are getting. Make sure you secure enough hay to cover your needs and some extra in case we have a bad or extra long winter.
For more information on these topics or other livestock industry questions, contact Phil Rucker, agriculture agent for the NC Cooperative Extension Service in Yadkin County, at 336-679-2061 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.