In 2005 I had the opportunity to attend a grazing conference in Roanoke, Va. As the manager of a background grazing operation for a beef feed lot I was hoping to find a way that I could increase my dismal average daily feeder gain on Kentucky 31 tall fescue dominant pastures.
One of the all-time great grass gurus, Dr. Carl Hoveland, was a guest speaker and I was praying that he was going to provide me with the magic bullet I needed to improve my average daily gain (ADG). His opening remark that KY31 cost the beef industry approximately $1 billion annually didn’t do much for my hopes. But, he also said that if it wasn’t for KY31, most of the central southeast (the fescue belt) would be almost devoid of ground cover. KY31’s ability to survive moderate drought, low fertility, and in some cases, atrocious grazing management meant that it was going to stick around. Unfortunately, KY31 is infected with an endophyte that, while it does a great job protecting the plant from insect and fungal damage, contains toxic alkaloids that cause fescue toxicosis in grazing animals. Raised body temperature during the warm season causing a reduction in grazed DMI (low ADG), reduced colostrum and milk production resulting in poor calves and poor reproduction performance.
However, there was one shining light for KY31. It was an excellent candidate for stockpiling as a late season feed that could be strip grazed to provide high quality forage that rivaled high quality hay without the harvesting costs incurred to make it. Tall fescue (even the new novel and endophyte friendly varieties) provides a tough sod that allows it to be grazed down to low residuals without affecting the following season’s plant population and growth performance.
Most high producing grazing dairy farmers have progressed from KY31 to the newer friendly varieties and they have proven to stockpile just as well as KY31. Novel or endophyte friendly varieties of tall fescue contain the same benefits that the endophyte provides KY31 but the toxic alkaloids that cause toxicosis have been bred out.
When it comes to feed quality, primarily TDN, I think stockpiled tall fescue has the edge on the rest of the perennial field. But, here in NE Texas, I have seen some excellent stockpiling efforts made with coastal bermudagrass and Tifton 85. Grazed to a low residual with a low producing group of lactating cows supplemented with pTMR or a group of dry cows leaves these paddocks in a great condition to be no-tilled with cool season annual forages that provide high quality grazing for profitable late winter/spring milk production.
Stockpiling or deferred grazing as it’s commonly called in New Zealand is not a relatively new grazing practice. A common strategy in New Zealand was to drop perennial ryegrass and clover paddocks that required rejuvenation out of the grazing round at seedhead emergence and leave them until seed drop occurred. While this pasture looked dry and unappetizing, cows in late lactation milked well on it as long as a reasonable residual could be tolerated. Fall rain germinated the fresh seed and the paddock’s plant population was restored.
This practice has fallen to the wayside now as crop rotating a poor performing paddock with corn for silage and then fall planting a completely new seed mix in a cultivated seed bed has become more popular. Perennial ryegrass can be successfully stockpiled here in the US as well although it doesn’t have the ability to withstand treading that tall fescue does. So….if you’re a dairy grazer that grazes predominantly tall fescue stockpiling can be an effective method for reducing winter feed costs. With managed strip grazing, a 1200lb dry dairy cow can get up to 60+ grazing days from 1 acre of stockpiled tall fescue. This is assuming that available forage is at 2500lbDM/ac (grazing efficiency at 70%) and she is consuming 2% of her bodyweight daily.
Here are some handy timeline management tips for stockpiled tall fescue.
- Clip or closely graze selected stockpile paddocks (1300-1400lbsDM/ac)
- Wait 10 days for new green growth to occur
- On or near an anticipated rain event apply 60 to 80 units of N per acre.
Late October through Early December
- Measure the amount of stockpiled forage available.
- Take a forage sample and get it analyzed for forage quality and nitrate level.
- Strip graze daily stockpiled allocation to obtain best utilization.
If grazing dry cows, make sure adequate mineral and supplements are available.
Implementing a stockpiling program with tall fescue has several advantages to the dairy grazer. It extends the grazing season, minimizes winter hay feeding, substantially reduces stored feed requirements, provides high-quality forage and does not impact on the persistence of tall fescue stands. Stockpiling is a strategy that is highly recommended to producers who utilize tall fescue in their forage system.