Alternatives to Help Stretch Forage Supplies

Alternatives to Help Stretch Forage Supplies

Maintain a 3” minimum grazing height


Inventory Animal Demand and Forage Supply

  • Animal demand per 1,000 lb cow is roughly 20 -30 pounds of forage per day, 750 – 900 pounds forage/month or 9,000 – 10,800/year demand will be somewhat less for non-lactating animals and somewhat higher for lactating animals. Best to allow for 10% forage wastage. Most operations feed hay for a 90 days or more. Real good grazers or low stocked operations feed less days. On average producers feed hay 120 days. Example: 120 days x 30 pounds = 3600 pounds/cow + 360 pounds waste = 3960 pounds hay/cow/winter feeding of 120 days
  • Inventory grass, hay or other feed supply before April 1, July 1 and Oct. 1.
  • Inventory pasture – every acre-inch of forage is equal to 200 – 400 pounds of dry matter. A good average is 300 pounds/acre inch for good producing grass. Example: 5” of growth x 300 pounds/acre in = 1500 pounds of forage but typically livestock only consume around 50% of that so 750 pounds per acre.

As few as two or three plants per square feet with good stem diameter should rebound and make a good stand with good management and adequate moisture.  If the pasture is grazed for an extended time below 3”, the pasture will likely need re-seeding.

  • Some producers like to have a 20% carryover of hay for insurance in case of a long winter, extended drought, hay fire, etc.
  • Example: 20 head cows x 3960 pounds for 120 days = 79,200 pounds/20 head cow herd. If rolls of hay weighing 1,000 pounds and have not weathered much, this producer would need 79 or 80 rolls per winter. Twenty acres x 750 pounds/acre = 15,000 pounds of forage which would last about 25 days if 20 head were grazing and no additional growth occurred. (20 head x 30 pounds/day = 600 pounds forage demand)


Options to Stretch Forage Supply

If additional forage is needed one or a combination of the following alternatives could improve forage utilization and/or production.

  • Best to restrict animals to one paddock (field) until other paddocks re-grow otherwise all paddocks will be grazed so low that recovery is very slow and grass may even be killed. Another option is to continue to rotating animals on a schedule of 7 days or less.
  • When forage re-grows to five inches or taller allow animals access to four days or less of forage at a time will typically increase forage utilization by 20% or more.

  • Stockpiling tall fescue – setting aside 0.5 to 1 acre per cow extends grazing and provides higher quality grazing. Many producers stockpile tall fescue without fertilizing with nitrogen this is a consideration especially when fertilizer prices are high. Consider the following; fertilizing tall fescue with 60 pounds of Nitrogen (180 pounds of ammonia nitrate) will produce an additional ton of forage. Cost of Nitrogen at $0.40/pound of nitrogen x 60 pounds or nitrogen will cost $24/acre.If hay cost $24/1,000 pound roll a producer will produce 1,000 pounds of forage in addition to the cost of 1000 pound roll.. Some of the standing grass will be wasted due to trampling and manure damage. Depending on forage management, cattle will consume 50 to 70% of the 1,000 pounds providing a benefit of an additional 500 to 700 pounds above cost of nitrogen. Benefits may even be greater if hay waste is high.
  • Over-seeding pastures with winter annuals. Typically not feasible to overseed pastures with winter annuals unless tall fescue stand is less than 50%, even then, it is questionable but in an emergency, it is an option. Spring oats provide the quickest growth in the fall but die out during the winter. Winter oats are another option. Seed 4 bushels of oats by Oct 1. Rye is second quickest growth, seed 2-3 bushels/acre prior to October 15 for fall growth. Wheat seed 2-3 bushels/acre by October 1. Ryegrass generally just provides late winter quality forage the same time that tall fescue is growing. Fertilize winter annuals with a minimum of 45 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
  • Consider leasing additional pasture
  • Grazing fields traditionally used for fall hay, this is particularly a good option when you consider harvest efficiency of harvesting hay is typically 70% and strip grazing also has an efficiency of 70%. You get the same utilization for less cost! If land is not strip grazed, utilization will likely be at 50% efficiency. High fuel cost makes grazing hay fields in the fall the best option.
  • Early weaning will reduce stress on the cow and extend forage supply
  • Creep grazing Allowing calves access to higher quality forage than the cows. A demonstration farm in Bledsoe County creep grazed calves gained an additional 75 pounds grazing pearl millet in the summer. Winter annuals are a good option for creep grazing in the cool months. Some producers place their electric wire at about 30” above the ground to allow calves to free range choosing the best forage ahead of the cows. When weaned calves are grazing an adjacent pasture field to the mother cow, there is naturally less stress for both. Cows in better condition breed back sooner.
  • Feed ruminant friendly by products such as soyhulls, and corn gluten.
  • Irrigation, can improve forage production, it is important to have optimum stand, weed control, fertility, for irrigation to pay.
  • Adjust stocking rate, some producers like to stock for drought not high production, approximately 20% below maximum stocking rate. Plan for the worst scenario & hope for the best!


Management Strategies ahead of drought

  • Diversity of forages 70 % cool season, 30 % warm season. Different species within each group or season of forage can extend the growing season.
  • Multiple paddocks (cross fence to make five or more fields).
  • Proper grazing heights – A recent study at North Carolina State University showed that overgrazed pastures produced 37% less than pasture grazed to a 3” height.
  • Stockpiled forage– provides quality forage at the lowest cost
  • Maintain fertility utilizing soil test
  • Evaluate forage supply – Determine needs in advance with the end of seeding dates in mind. April 1 for spring seeded cool season grasses, July 1 for warm season grasses and October 1 for fall seeded cool season grasses.