One alternative to feeding hay this early in the fall is the use of stockpiled forages. Research indicates that stockpiled bermudagrass does not lose its nutritive value as quickly during the fall as previously thought. Crude protein and energy values may remain adequate for mature dry, pregnant cows and reduce the amount of hay fed this winter. I have not seen any research on stockpiled native grasses but I would dare to venture that the results would be similar.
Many of us here in Cooke County have had extra grass this year thanks to the timely rains and great weather. Most years we are not as lucky, and I have begun feeding hay as early as August. And again, most years if my grass would last long enough to get to weaning in October, I was a jolly rancher. But on these years where we have this excess forage, we should use it as long as it will last.
Stockpiling is the process of allowing forage (warm or cool season) to accumulate in the pasture for grazing at a later time. There can be significant savings when using stockpiled forages compared to traditional hay feeding. Savings are realized because producers can forgo the expense of baling the forage, hauling the hay to the barn or other storage location and then hauling the hay back to the livestock at a later date. You know, bale it all spring, haul it all summer and then feed it all winter!
It’s a lot of time and work, right? Not to mention expensive, when baling will cost you $25-30 per roll and then the added expense of hauling it to a stack lot or putting it in the barn. Then you must abuse your truck or ride the tractor all winter putting it out. You can easily have $30-40 in it when all said and done, and of course that excludes fertilizer. If we can shorten the winter hay feeding period and save a little money at the same time, well let’s do it!
The use of stockpiled forage is not new, as producers using native rangelands have used stockpiled forage for winter grazing for many years. Using native grass as a stockpiled, standing hay crop is one of the most cost-effective methods of overwintering the cow herd. It’s the way we did it when I was a growing up on the ranch and we only fed square bales when we had ice or snow. We didn’t even know what a round baler was back then. Of course, we didn’t overstock like most folks do today.
Here in our neck of the woods it would be naïve to think we could make stockpiled forage last all winter, right? Realistically, our goal should be to have enough standing forage to get our cows to Jan. 1. I know a lot of ranchers that use this strategy for their cowherd and they plant wheat or ryegrass to be ready to graze when the standing forage runs out. It depends on the year, of course, but that’s a great way to cut down on the amount of hay you need to feed through the rest of the winter.
Another option I used is that as soon as the winter pasture is ready to turn in on, I would rotate the cows on and off utilizing both the standing and winter forage together and it worked great for me. I call it supplemental grazing, using the wheat a couple hours or more a day to boost the protein and energy levels and therefore supplement their feed requirements. This is a hands-on approach, and many will not have the time to be out there every day, but if you do it’s a great idea.
There are many combinations that can be used depending on when the forage is ready, rotational grazing practices and how long the standing forage will last. It’s something you have to play by ear and make adjustments when needed to fit your operation — sound familiar?
I would venture to bet that using standing forage will not eliminate your need to feed hay this winter, but I will bet you that it can get you a long way to feeding much less hay than you normally would during the coming winter. Make it work for you; you’re the boss!
Marty Morgan is Cooke County Ag Agent for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach him at 940-668-5412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.