By Laura Skillman
PRINCETON, Ky. Nutrients supplied by pasture are the cheapest source of nutrients for beef cattle and the longer a farmer can graze his cattle, the better his bottom line potential.
While farmers cannot graze all year, they can extend their grazing season and cut the amount of hay fed during the winter months. Corn residue and stockpiled tall fescue offer farmers two good fall and winter grazing options, say University of Kentucky (UK) forage and beef cattle specialists.
Tall fescue is at its highest quality during the fall, said Garry Lacefield, UK Extension forage specialist. By planning ahead, fertilizing with nitrogen in August and with proper moisture, a farmer can stockpile fields for grazing and reduce their hay needs and reduce feed costs, he said.
As long as the fescue receives the needed rains, there will be growth in late fall and early winter. "We can get two tons of dry matter from late August through November," Lacefield said.
Fescue is a resource that is simply not used well enough, said John Johns, UK Extension beef cattle specialist. Early in the fall, stockpiled fescue is an extremely high quality feed, he said. It has the energy of corn silage and the protein content of good horse quality alfalfa.
"That's hard to beat," he said. For stocker cattle stockpiled fescue is a valuable source in a time where cattlemen don't go after as much weight gain as they should, Johns said.
One study showed stockers grazing on stockpiled fescue from mid-November until late April with two bales of hay fed during the period had an average daily gain of 0.82 pound. In late April, the pasture began to grow again and from then until mid June, the stockers had an ADG of 2.83 pounds on that same field or an overall ADG from mid- November to mid-June of 1.32 pounds.
A summary of four years of work by UK, shows that the daily gain for dry, pregnant cows was 1.25 lbs. with a stocking rate of 1-1/3 cow per acre of fescue. If properly managed, grazing can be nearly year-round, Johns said.
"The only time we have to feed hay is when you have several inches or snow or ice on the ground," he said.
From a beef cattle perspective, corn crop residue is a very suitable feed, Johns said. Grain left in the field is the best feed, but the leaves and top third on the stalk are very much like a medium-quality grass hay. So you can maintain a cow extremely well using it as a feed source.
A five-year study in the Midwest showed that at the rate of a half-acre per cow per month, with a total of two acres per cow, the cows actually gained weight in the winter time, Johns said. This rate of stocking will ensure that an adequate amount of residue is left to meet conservation requirements.
Conservatively, a corn crop has 2 to 3 tons of dry matter available after a 100 bushel an acre corn crop has been harvested, Lacefield said. A farmer can gain 50 to 100 grazing days per acre.
Lacefield said there are some precautions farmers need to consider when grazing corn residue. If a herbicide has been used that says do not graze, then do not graze. Be aware of possible foundering problems if too much grain was left by the combine, he said. And, if a large amount of johnsongrass was left in the field, Prussic acid could be a problem after a light, non-killing frost.