Fall Forage Planning

Posted: October 13, 2011

There is an outstanding farm organization that anyone who grows or feeds forages should belong to and that is the PA Forage and Grassland Council.

This organization is a member driven organization that includes membership of producers, forage industry and related businesses and university scientists and county educators. The council supports the forage production industry in PA through conferences; web based knowledge; publications;, the Ag Progress Day Hay Show and timely newsletters aimed at production issues. I would encourage you to consider joining by checking out the PFGC website at

In the recent issue of the PA Forage and Grasslands Council newsletter there were some interesting articles. Of interest to me and anyone who grazes livestock or horses was an article related to overgrazing pastures in the fall. The article was written by a county agent, Vince Crary from Minnesota Extension. Vince notes that many livestock producers are starting into the winter feeding season with concerns about their stored forage supplies. (Question: Have you taken an inventory of your forage supplies and know your stored feed/forage status?)  Due to the lack of rainfall and short hay supplies many grazers will attempt to maximize their feeding program by leaving animals out on pastures for an extended period this fall. Is this a good idea?

When you leave livestock and horses overgraze a pasture they consume the newest regrowth on the forages. This regrowth begins within 3 to 5 days of grazing. It is important that any perennial plant has sufficient leaf area to produce energy to sustain the plant over extended time periods like winter dormancy. Over grazing significantly weakens the plants by draining these reserves.

Overgrazed pastures will be extremely slow to regrow next spring. This will lead to reduced production and the ability for pasture weeds to invade these weakened areas of the pasture. If overgrazed in the fall your pastures should have a longer period in the spring prior to reintroducing animals to the pastures

The best practice for grazing is referred to as rotational grazing, compared to the more common continuous grazing. In rotational grazing animals are removed from the pasture area to allow for the plants to have a rest period to allow for regrowth and root reserve regeneration. This enables the plants to thrive and compete with weeds.

If you are faced with an overgrazed pasture this fall there are still some practices you may incorporate to help your stand survive. Soil testing is critical. When was your last soil test taken? Conditions can change rapidly in a heavily used pasture. You can topdress this fall, with some fertility to assist plant winter survival. Without a soil test add 50# each of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium soon. If you have a soil test follow those recommendations. You can fertilize up to late November. Next spring be ready to again topdress to ensure stand survival and good production in 2012

Paul H. Craig is the Penn State Cooperative Extension Educator for Agronomy serving the Southeast Region of PA.  Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.  Penn State Extension in Cumberland County is located at 310 Allen Road, Suite 601, Carlisle, PA  17013, phone 717-240-6500, Office e-mail