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Does Stockpiling Fescue Pay?

Farm Management Update, June 1997

By Henry Snodgrass of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

Is it cost effective to stockpile cool season grasses for grazing in late fall and winter?

In Table 1, the cost of supplying a unit of digestible energy to a ruminant from different sources is compared with grazed pasture having an index value of 100.

Table 1. Relative economic efficiency of supplying a unit of digestible energy to ruminant livestock.

  Cost Ratio
Grazed Pasture100
All Hay160
Timothy Hay161
Dehydrated forages320
Grains and concentrates457

Source: 1996 Missouri Grazing Manual

While the ratios shown above may change some with fluctuations in price of feed grains and hay, they give a good idea of the relative cost. In the process of harvesting and feeding hay, you are increasing the cost roughly 50 to 60 percent. This cost does not account for the opportunity cost of time, which could be used in other productive tasks.

Extending the grazing season using cool season grasses and legumes can be one of the most cost-effective practices available to farmers. In Virginia, this practice is most often accomplished by stockpiling tall fescue in the late summer and early fall.

Even though the graph in Figure 1 shows response to nitrogen applications up to 120 lb./A., the availability of moisture may limit the utilization of N applied at these higher rates. Standard recommendations in Virginia are to apply 60 to 80 lb. of N, August 1. A conservative response to an application of 80 lb. of N would be 1200 lb. dry matter, which would cost 2(/lb. of dry matter produced. Compare this to the cost of hay you produce. An average cost for producing clover - orchardgrass hay in Virginia is 3.1(/lb. dry matter. Again, this cost does not include the cost of feeding the hay to the livestock. To the savings in dollars and time, add in the quality of forage typically found in a stockpiled tall fescue. Typically the quality of the stockpiled forage is as good as or better than the "good hay" in your barn.

To further enhance the utilization of stockpiled forage use strip grazing to limit access. Strip grazing reduces the loss of forage to trampling, bedding on grass, manure, etc. Strip grazing can be accomplished by using temporary electric fencing which can be moved easily as needed. In work done in North Carolina in 1995, savings of $20/head was gained by using strip grazing of 47 yearling heifers and 22 first calf cows on 35 acres of unfertilized pasture/hay field - fescue, blue grass, orchardgrass, red and white clover. (Source: "Strip Grazing Stockpiled Fescue Reduces Production Costs. Matt Poore, Animal Husbandry Newsletter, April 1996, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.)

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