After the initial decision is made to stockpile, the next decision is whether or not nitrogen fertilizer should be applied.
It's time for my annual reminder that early to mid-August is a good time to set aside some pasture paddocks to stockpile growth for winter grazing. On many farms, the actual implementation of stockpiling can be traced back to management decisions in June and July as pasture paddock rotations were adjusted to set up this practice.
Tall fescue is the forage of choice to stockpile for winter grazing. Compared to other cool-season grass species, tall fescue produces more fall growth and does the best job of maintaining forage quality throughout the winter period. Tall fescue also accumulates high levels of non-structural carbohydrates and has improved palatability when grown under cool, as compared to warm or hot, weather conditions.
In addition, we have a high percentage of endophyte-infected fescue in our area. The toxic alkaloids associated with infected fescue reduce forage palatability and depress animal performance over the summer months. However, research done in Missouri has shown those alkaloids decrease significantly by about mid-January in stockpiled fescue. This provides another reason why fescue should be stockpiled and used for winter grazing rather than trying to force cattle to graze it during August and September.
After the initial decision is made to stockpile, the next decision is whether nitrogen (N) fertilizer should be applied. The application of N will increase the dry-matter (DM) yield of stockpiled fescue as well as the quality of the stockpiled forage. If a paddock has a uniform 30% legume percentage, it may not be necessary to add supplemental N. If legumes are not uniform throughout the field or are less than 30% of the stand, then supplemental N can be beneficial.
Field trials done in southeastern Ohio compared the effect of N fertilization vs. no N fertilization on stockpiled fescue yield. In that work, 46 lbs. of N/acre applied on Aug. 20 produced an additional 1,400 lbs. of DM/acre compared to a stockpiled plot with no N application. In that same study, when N application was delayed a month to Sept. 20, there was still a yield response, but it was decreased with the fertilized plot accumulating an additional 980 lbs. of DM/acre compared to the unfertilized plot. A three-year study in Kentucky showed a yield increase, on average, of an additional 1,100 lbs. DM/acre when stockpiled fescue was fertilized with 46 lbs./acre of N in mid-August compared to stockpiled fescue without any additional N fertilizer.
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