A few thoughts on stockpiling fescue
In the love/hate relationship you have with fescue, one characteristic that should be tallied on the “love” side of things is that fescue is well adapted for fall stockpiling. It allows you to graze longer into the winter.
In a stockpiling system, fertilizer is applied in late summer and forage is allowed to accumulate until it goes dormant. Grazing the pastures usually starts in early winter. For stockpiling fescue, MFA forage specialist David Moore recommends application of fertilizer between Aug. 20 and Sept. 15. The application consists of a third of the year’s nitrogen, all the year’s phosphorus and half of the year’s potassium plus 5 pounds of sulfur.
If you don’t have a soil test for reference, in general terms, the application would be 40 pounds N, 50 pounds P and 75 pounds K with 5 pounds of sulfur.
Moore told me, “This should promote good fall pasture and stockpiling as well as support an early wakeup of healthy grass that is poised to grow well the following spring.” His mantra, which you can read more about on page 14, is “Don’t feed the weeds. More grass equals more beef.”
For the most appropriate fertility recommendations on your pasture, you should get a soil test. And, going forward, consider grid sampling and using some level of variable-rate application to get the right fertility to the places in your forage program that most need it.
Putting nitrogen on grass pastures is a bet that you cannot lose. Let me explain: the typical response is that 1 pound of nitrogen gives an additional 20 pounds of forage dry matter. There are some trade-offs: the earlier you start stockpiling, the higher the yield response, but stockpile forage will be more mature and lower in nutrients. And, rain is required.
When talking about stockpiled forage, I like to think of cows as self-propelled forage harvesters, keeping my labor down to moving fences. The way to achieve the highest utilization of the stockpiled fescue is to manage the pasture by frontal strip grazing. With this method, you will be managing cattle grazing behavior. By restricting grazing to strips, you’ll get a more complete forage harvest. In most cases, a new strip is offered every other day. Using this method, harvest efficiency can be better than 70 percent (a similar use efficiency to hay systems).
What makes fescue a high candidate for stockpiling is the fact it retains its nutrient value better than other forages and manages to stay standing. The feed value of stockpiled fescue is usually close to or greater than the nutrient requirements for dry beef cows, and with luck and good management, it comes close to covering energy and protein needs for wet cows of moderate milking ability.
If you are trying to put weight on calves, results might differ. When you test the stockpiled forage, results might indicate you ought to be getting a higher average daily gain than what you actually get. The traditional nutritionist excuse for slow calf gain on stockpiled fescue is to blame endophyte infection. Fescue infected with endophyte will slow intake and performance. If you need to push calves on stockpile, they will respond well to Cadence, Cattle Charge or Full Throttle.
University of Missouri agronomists Rob Kallenbach and Craig Roberts reported that stockpiled fescue typically will have a nutritive quality high enough to support wintering beef cows. Their research show average values of 12 percent crude protein at greater than 36 percent acid detergent fiber and 56 percent neutral detergent fiber. That would be a relative feed value of at least 100 with in vitro digestibilities in the 70s. Of course, there is a tremendous year-by-year variability to nutrient values of stockpiled forages. Snow cover will set you back, and ice is a plan wrecker.
Supplementing the stockpiled forage comes down to an art. You want to balance available stockpile with hay supplies and the cost of supplements along with the body condition or rate of gain you have targeted. The response to supplementation will depend on the availability and quality of the forage.
As a general rule, increasing the degradable protein and energy on stockpiled fescue will improve daily dry matter intake. Using ionophores such as Rumensin and Bovatec will significantly improve animal performance and help cows hold their body condition. Feeding a vitamin and trace mineral source will ensure the herd’s nutrient requirements are covered. You can piecemeal a supplementation or feed something like Cattle Charge as a single-product solution. If you have endophyte-infected fescue, the supplementation helps dilute or reduce the ergot alkaloid load in your animals’ bloodstream.