Cattle and forage producers at a recent field day at the Butner Beef Cattle Field Laboratory in Bahama, N.C, saw the benefits of stockpiled fescue forages to a winter beef cattle feeding program.
Extension Livestock Commodity Coordinator Matt Poore, says stockpiled forage is more nutritious, leads to better animal performance, reduces environmental impact of winter feeding and is more economical than mechanical harvest with hay or silage feeding.
In 2009, thousands of acres of North Carolina crop land was left rutted by late fall harvest — a result of record rain, snow and freezing weather. Stockpiling fescue forage has proven to be one way of surviving such adverse weather conditions.
In diversified farming operations stockpiling forages also can have a far-reaching environmental effect by replacing harvested forage. Even if forage is available for mechanical harvest, the soil and crop seems to respond and perform better if that forage is chopped and allowed to decompose in place.
In tests conducted by the North Carolina State research team, high stocking rates (in excess of 150,000 pounds per acre) for short durations did not seem to damage fescue stands and it was perceived that the sward density and biodiversity were increased, regardless of what was planted in the pasture. Percentage of fescue varied from 50 percent to 90 percent with some native warm and cool season grasses and legumes.
In tests at the research facility and on-farm demonstrations, established fescue pastures were fertilized with 50-100 pounds of nitrogen broadcast with phosphorus and potassium as recommended in early September. Pastures had been clipped or grazed short just before application of fertilizer.
Cows with calves or developing heifers with a bull were introduced in mid- to late-November. These cattle were given no hay or other additional feed. Minerals were always available. Cattle were “strip grazed” or allowed only the forage they would consume in a day, using poly wire and no back fence.
Researchers found that cattle used nearly 75 percent of available forage from the winter forage stockpiles, or about double the utilization rate when a herd is turned out on a large pasture. Protein started out in November at 15 to 16 pecent on a dry weight basis and declined through the winter.
Poore says cattle on the test performed better than expected. These cattle had maintained better body condition than expected, considering the weather and calf performance.
An unusually wet fall, followed by record snow fall and cold weather had a similar devastating effect as these El Niño-inspired weather patterns had on row crops in the upper Southeast As a result, at the time of the mid-February field day and tour, all producers were nearing the end of their stock piled fescue with little winter grazing remaining.
“Here at Butner we are out of fescue and feeding hay, but have about a month of forage left ungrazed, Hopefully, we will get enough regrowth by the time our cattle finish our remaining forage supply,” Poore says.
He adds that feeding hay by unrolling only what was needed for a day or two and placing a polywire fence in the middle of the unrolled hay improved utilization, decreased waste and increased distribution of elimination events as opposed to using a hay feeding trailer or round bale feeder.
However, Poore stresses that areas in which this type feeding is done need to be the highest and driest area of a farm and it does require a commitment to daily feeding.