Tall fescue leads the forage stockpiling pack when it comes to fall yields. University of Minnesota (UM) researchers says the perennial served up 20% more yield in the fall than its closest competitor in that part of the country. Researchers conducted the evaluation at the UM research center in Morris. The various species were evaluated from July 15 to harvest prior to a killing frost.

Tall fescue had the greatest fall yield and among the greatest total season yields of eight species evaluated. Reed canarygrass and orchardgrass were second to tall fescue in stockpile yield, producing about 600 lbs./acre less forage dry matter (about 20% less). Since yield data for alfalfa represents the sum of two harvests (mid-August and mid-September), alfalfa would likely not be a good candidate for stockpile management. Even birdsfoot trefoil produced more than 1 ton/acre of stockpiled forage; however, the researchers say it would be important to use this forage prior to a killing frost since substantial loss in yield and quality would be expected.

Though any forage species or mixture can be stockpiled, the researchers emphasize some species lend themselves more readily to the practice. For instance, tall fescue is among the best grass species to stockpile because: 1) It's productive in the fall; 2) Its feeding value deteriorates relatively slowly after a hard frost; 3) It accumulates a high concentration of soluble carbohydrates (readily digestible energy for grazing cattle) in response to fall conditions; and 4) It forms a tough sod which can recover from animal trampling during the wet conditions that can sometimes occur during the stockpile-grazing period.

Recent Minnesota and Wisconsin experiments demonstrate tall fescue's potential for stockpiling in this region, but only endophyte-free tall fescue seed should be used. They also suggest to seed small acreages initially if cattle farmers haven't seeded tall fescue before.

For producers in that neck of the woods, researchers say:

  • Earlier stockpile initiation (June to early July) will produce relatively more yield of lower quality forage. Later stockpile initiation (late July to August) will produce relatively less yield of higher quality forage.
  • Application of either synthetic or organic nitrogen at the initiation of stockpiling grasses is essential. For synthetic nitrogen, 40-60 lbs. nitrogen/acres is recommended.
  • Yield of stockpiled forage will generally increase until the first hard frost. After this, both yield and quality of the forage will decline. The energy level of the forage will deteriorate more than its protein level, so supplementation should most often be geared first toward meeting energy needs. In Wisconsin research, digestibility of stockpiled grasses declined from about 74% in October, to 71% in December, and about 65% the following March. Over the same period, crude protein percentage declined only 1%, from about 12% to about 11%. In addition, forage quality of the stockpiled feed will decline least rapidly with tall fescue, and most rapidly with legumes.
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-- Wes Ishmael