Common Sense Grazing

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We all can agree it has been a dry spring and summer. Some areas have been drier
than others, but we all have received less rain than normal. Even though we have received less rain, we still need to be ready to take advantage, when it does rain. And it will rain. The questions is, “How do we position our pastures to take full advantage of future rains?” First, evaluate your pastures. Some are probably overgrazed and the fescue is weak or completely gone. Hopefully, some pastures still have fescue (and other cool season forages) at least 3-4 inches tall. Evaluate all your pastures and put them in one category or the other.
Pastures in the first category, thin and over grazed, should be re-planted in fescue or fescue mixed with other cool season forages. September is the month to plant tall fescue, orchardgrass, etc. To learn more about establishment of pastures visit
information to re-establish your permanent pastures. Ask your local Extension Agent for help with your particular situation. Each farm is different and they will give tailored advice for your operation. Be sure to take a soil test too. This is the best way to determine fertility – lime & fertilizer – requirements.
Pastures in the second category, good fescue 3-4 inches tall, are ready to go to work.
When it rains, they will come back and be productive this fall. For maximum growth apply 60 to 80 units of nitrogen along with additional requirements as indicated by a soil test. It is best to fertilize now in September.
With either situation, over grazed thin pastures or good fescue minimum 3-4 inches
tall, it is essential that these pastures rest. Animals must be removed. If pastures are not
allowed to rest, they are not as likely to recover and become productive. Move animals to sacrifice areas and feed hay now. If your animals are not able to get a full bite of grass on the pasture, you’ll be feeding hay anyway. Put them up in one area and let your pasture recover until January 1st. This strategy of feeding hay now and grazing later, gives pastures a chance to recover. However, this all depends on rainfall. The current best prediction is we will have a wet fall since El Niño is in full effect in the Pacific Ocean (http://climate.ncsu.edu/climateblog?id=152).
Letting fescue (or other forages) accumulate is called stockpiling or deferred grazing. It
is a technique that has been used very successfully for many years. The quality of fall
stockpiled fescue is excellent and better than fescue hay. Stockpiled fescue will more than meet the needs of mature cattle and most lactating cows. Heifers on stockpiled grass alone can gain two pounds per day without additional feed.
To get the maximum utilization of the available standing forage, it must be control
grazed. Controlled grazing is nothing more that providing animals a fresh section of pasture every one to three days. Controlled grazing doubles pasture utilization as compared to providing cattle a 30 day allotment of continuous grazing. This is an underutilized technique by cattlemen.
On average, one acre of stockpiled fescue will feed a 1,000 pound animal from the first
of January through March if controlled grazing is employed and we receive normal rainfall.
This also assumes the stockpiling starts September 1 with 60 to 80 units of N fertilizer. Starting the stockpiling earlier yields more tonnage, but with lower quality. Stockpiling that begins after September 1 will have slightly higher quality, but less quantity.
If you would like to learn more about forages and grazing then make plans to attend
the NC Forage and Grassland Council’s Mid-Winter Conference in Statesville on January 28.

Written By

Photo of Seth Nagy, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionSeth NagyCounty Extension Director (828) 757-1290 (Office) seth_nagy@ncsu.eduCaldwell County, North Carolina
Updated on Sep 15, 2015
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