Reducing Winter Hay Feeding

The hot dry weather of summer is a sharp contrast to the mindset needed to plan for winter hay feeding needs. But good managers know this is the time to be thinking about balancing feed available and feed needed at the end of the grazing season until sufficient new growth next spring. They also look at and evaluate many options to meet these needs.

One question to consider is ‘When is the end of the grazing season?’. This is very different when moving from farm to farm. For some, the feeding of hay to supplement drought stressed summer pastures, leads right on in to feeding of winter hay. On the other end of the scale are those who graze all winter and feed little hay except in very bad weather. Choosing where you want to be on this scale requires timely action to take full advantage of fall growing conditions.

Tall fescue outshines other perennial grasses in it’s ability to grow late in the fall into early winter and maintain good forage quality. The natural growth pattern for this and other cool season grasses is to put up two thirds of it’s annual growth in the spring. This can be shifted by applying nitrogen in early fall to boost growth for the remainder of the growing season. With the summer moisture we have now received, mid August is not to early to apply ammonium nitrate to get the most out of the fall growing period. This is a fairly stable form of nitrogen at higher temperatures unlike urea forms of nitrogen. Pastures that are 4 to 6 inches tall at the time of application are ready to take off for maximum forage growth. These stands can utilize up to 40 to 60 pounds of actual nitrogen at this time. This should be reduced to 20 to 30 pounds as you get near the first of October, but total growth will also be reduced by waiting. Fall applied nitrogen is usually not as hard on clovers in the stand as spring applications.

How you utilize this fall growth will also influence how long it will last into the winter. Even if continuously grazed, nitrogen for fall growth pasture is still cheaper than hay costs. However, these savings can really be extended by rotating pastures even in the winter, or even more, up to double, by stripgrazing only what livestock can clean up in a short period.

For more information on fall fertility or grazing practices, contact the Dallas County Soil and Water Conservation District or Natural Resources Conservation Service office at (417) 345-2312 Ext. 3.