Preparing Your Winter Pasture
on Wednesday, September 9, 2020
The end of summer means the start of preparation for winter pasture. If you’re a farmer, you know that the key to good quality winter pasture is proper planning. The more care you put into a plan, the fewer number of days you’ll have to feed your livestock hay in the cold of winter.
As you identify which of your paddocks are best suited for building your winter stockpile, there are a few basic tenets to keep in mind that can help you formulate your plans.
Plant a Cool-Season Grass
Generally, preparations for winter pasture begin in early August to mid-September. Farmers will typically take this opportunity to plant seeding for a cool-season grass, counting on the reduced competition from weeds. The goal of seeding during this period is to ensure good enough growth to ensure the pasture can weather the harsh conditions of the coming winter months. You are growing grass during the late summer and fall months, building up a stockpile of forage in the field rather than having to harvest it as hay you would later have to feed your livestock yourself.
Grow a Stockpile of Tall Fescue
Farmers can grow their grass of choice, and you will want to shop for a high quality seed from a reputable company and find a forage to plant that matches the field conditions and the sensitivities of your livestock. But one of the most popular winter pastures is tall fescue. Well suited for winter grazing, tall fescue is a top choice for a number of different reasons.
First and foremost, tall fescue develops into a sod capable of withstanding heavy use and producing high yields of quality forage. When properly fertilized, it can grow the equivalent of one to two tons of hay per acre. But that will also depend on what time of year you allow the tall fescue to grow and the protein levels, which should be between 10 and 13 percent. It can also handle being seeded later in the season if you are waiting for a row crop to be harvested first.
Best practices suggest grazing or mowing the fescue down to 2 or 3 inches by mid-August, removing low quality summer growth and allowing for new high quality leaves to grow. Be careful not to overgraze either, otherwise you risk slowing the recovery growth and reducing your stockpile of forage. Remove your livestock once the pasture is grazed down, allowing them to return in November or December once other pastures have been grazed.
Reserve Hay for Favorable Fall Weather
In the event that the fall growth of your other pastures is not enough to sustain your livestock until the winter pasture is ready for grazing, consider feeding them hay when there are periods of fair weather between September and November. Take advantage of the nicer conditions and allow your stockpile of tall fescue to accumulate for the harsher winter months.
There are a number of different grazing options for winter pasture, with rye and oats both representing suitable options for use in Alabama, and there are a variety of factors to consider as you develop a plan unique to your farm. But the goal is always the same, and hopefully the steps laid out here help you identify the winter pasture that works best for you and your livestock.
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