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Topics : Pastures : Strategies for Extending the Grazing Season

Strategies for Extending the Grazing Season

Additional pasture information via the Forage Information System (FIS)

Stockpiling Tall Fescue

Several strategies can be employed to supply forage into the fall or early winter and effectively extend the grazing season by 60 to 90 days, thus reducing the need for stored feeds. These strategies can be categorized into two major groups: 1) stockpiling (conserving cool-season forages in late summer for use in the fall and winter), or 2) utilizing forage crops that continue to grow into the fall and early winter.

Not all cool-season species are adapted to stockpiling because most species reduce growth in the fall because of shorter day lengths and/or lose leaves (quality) after being frosted. Tall fescue and birdsfoot trefoil are two forage species which are suited to stockpile management because they continue to grow into the fall and do not lose leaves as readily as other cool-season species after frost.

Tall fescue is a deep-rooted, long-lived, sod-forming grass that spreads by short underground stems called rhizomes. It is drought resistant and will maintain itself under rather limited fertility conditions. Animals readily graze tall fescue during the fall, but show some reluctance to graze it during the summer months of July and August. Some of this reduced summer palatability, which results in poor animal performance, is associated with the presence of a fungus in the plant (endophytic). Endophyte-free varieties are now available and are recommended for new seedings. Tall fescue is the best adapted cool-season grass for stockpiling.

Adapted Varieties

Numerous tall fescue varieties are being marketed in Pennsylvania, however, only endophyte-free varieties should be selected when seedings are to be grazed. `Johnstone,' `Festorina,' and `Barcel' tall fescue varieties have performed well in Penn State studies. They are endophyte-free and of high quality.

Grazing Management

Tall fescue can be part of a forage program but should not be all of it. Legumes with tall fescue improve animal performance and increase forage production during the summer. Tall fescue will withstand closer grazing and more abuse than most cool-season grasses. But it can be overgrazed to the point that vigor and production are reduced. Don't graze closer than three or four inches, and allow at least 30 days in mid-summer for the tall fescue to recover.

To stockpile tall fescue, don't graze it from mid- or late August through mid-October. Cattle and sheep perform less than optimally on it during this period. Fertilize with 50 lb nitrogen/acre and allow the growth to accumulate for use in the fall or winter.

Stockpiling and nitrogen fertilizer allows accumulation of forage, however, this results in low tiller density, increased winter injury, and slow recovery in the spring.

The most important thing to remember is that while stockpiling can provide large quantities of herbage for late fall and early winter grazing, it will also delay recovery in the spring. At modest rates of nitrogen fertilization, stands of tall fescue will not deteriorate as fast as other cool-season grasses under stockpiling.

For more information about Tall Fescue.