Harvested forages for winter feed can be one of the largest expenses and most time-consuming tasks on a livestock operation. The grazing season can be extended for 2 to 3 months by implementing stockpiled forages into a feeding program, as well as reducing costs traditionally spent for harvesting and storing feed by lowering input costs and time spent harvesting and feeding stored feeds.
Stockpiling is a deferred grazing management strategy in which grazing animals are removed from pastures and forages are accumulated on pastures beginning late summer (late-July to early-August) until forage accumulation and growth dramatically slows or ceases completely. The standing feed is then available to cattle in the fall and winter until it has all been consumed or has a deep snow cover.
After animals are removed from pasture in the late summer, 40-60 lbs. of nitrogen fertilizer should be applied for optimal forage accumulation and quality into the fall. Some cool-season forages dramatically reduce their growth in the fall because of the reduced day length, or they are highly susceptible to losing their leaves after a frost, therefore rendering some cool-season grass species unsuitable for stockpiling. Some cool-season grasses that studies have shown to be successfully stockpiled include Tall Fescue, Downy Bromegrass, Timothy, and Birdsfoot Trefoil. Interseeding annual forage crops such as triticale and forage Brassicas into existing pastures can also be stockpiled and add more forage mass and an increase in overall forage quality.
When harvesting hay, the plant parts with greater nutritive value (i.e. leaves) are more susceptible to falling off the plant and not being present when that harvested forage is fed, robbing livestock of essential nutrients. Because there is no processing or harvesting when stockpiling forages, it better gives the plant an opportunity to retain its higher quality by keeping its leaves. Forage quality and digestibility of stockpiled forages declines as growth accumulates, forages mature, and winter conditions continue, so stockpiling is best if used on lower maintenance grazing animals, such as dry cows.
Managing grazing livestock's access to stockpiled forages by strip grazing can alleviate wasted feed and leaf loss. Strip grazing is a management system that involves giving livestock a fresh area of pasture every day or every few days by moving a temporary electric fence in the pasture. Limiting the areas they can graze will assist in further prolonging the grazing season and alleviating the need for stored feeds. A "rule of thumb" often used to determine how much stockpiled forage is needed, if using tall fescue, is that one acre of strip grazed 12" tall fescue will support a beef cow for 70 to 90 days.
With the numerous benefits of extending the grazing season via stockpiling, lower tiller density, slower spring recovery, and greater susceptibility to winter injury can also occur. These negative side effects can be reduced with proper management and the use of nitrogen fertilizer, which should be applied prior to stockpiling in the late summer to increase forage accumulation and herbage mass and after grazing of stockpiled forages in the early spring to assist with forage recovery.