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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Crop and Soil Environmental News, August 2001

Prepare Now for Winter Pasture

Ray Smith
Extension Forage Specialist

Now is the time to prepare for winter pasture. With proper planning you can have good quality winter pasture and reduce the number of days that you have to feed hay on cold, windy days late in the year. One of the easiest winter pastures is "stockpiled" tall fescue. Simply put, you are stockpiling forage in the field by letting it grow during the late summer and fall, rather than having to harvest it as hay and take it back to your livestock during the winter.

Tall fescue is well suited for winter grazing. It forms a strong sod, which withstands heavy use and produces high yields of quality forage. It does not bed down or deteriorate as quickly as orchardgrass. A properly fertilized tall fescue field will produce the equivalent of 1_ to 2 tons of hay per acre if allowed to grow during the fall with protein levels of 10 to 13%. This is as high or higher than much of the grass hay cut in Virginia each year. Animals also seem to graze tall fescue more readily in the late fall and winter than in the summer. This is not surprising since sugars tend to be higher in the plant during this period and endophyte problems are less likely to occur.

Follow these simple steps to produce high quality stockpiled tall fescue for winter grazing:

  1. Graze or mow the fescue down to 2 to 3 inches during early to mid-August. Grazing or mowing removes low quality summer growth and allows the plant to produce new high quality leaves. Make sure to remove animals once the pasture is grazed down because overgrazing slows recovery growth and reduces the amount of stockpiled forage.

  2. Topdress pure stands of tall fescue with 60 to 80 lbs N per acre during early to mid-August. Without N yield and protein will be lower. This is also a good time to apply phosphorus, potassium and lime according to soil test recommendations. In the absence of a soil test, apply 40 to 60 lbs each of phosphorus and potassium per acre. Optimal growth will occur when pH is maintained above 6.0. N may be reduced if clover is present.

  3. Keep livestock off this pasture until the fall growth of other pastures is grazed (usually November or December), then turn the animals onto the stockpiled tall fescue.

  4. If pastures run short in the fall, consider feeding hay during favorable weather in September to November. This allows stockpiled tall fescue to accumulate and stretches the supply of grazable forage. As mentioned before, let your animals feed themselves during cold, inclement winter weather rather than you having to get out and feed hay.

  5. Where possible, stockpiled tall fescue fields should be strip grazed and stocked heavily enough to graze down the accumulated growth in each paddock in 7 to 14 days or less. This allows the forage to be fully utilized without excessive trampling and wastage. Since tall fescue does not regrow in the winter, a back fence is not essential when strip grazing stockpiled growth.

  6. Additional options:

Contact your local county agent for more information.

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