With wet fields and wet corn prevalent this season, fall-grazing plans must be revisited, says Victor Shelton, Natural Resources Conservation Service grazing specialist.

He says corn stock residue that is commonly grazed this time of year should be avoided until after soil conditions improve – by either drying up or freezing. And, as the quality of that fodder will decrease, maintenance animals are likely the best candidates for grazing.

“It might be best to just skip this year if enough pasture and hay is available. Many areas still have an abundance of forage available for grazing. Once we have a good killing freeze, we can feel comfortable to start grazing stockpiled forages without worrying too much about stressing the plant too much,” he says.

Shelton recommends first looking at what is stockpiled. For instance, forages that don't hold value very well and for very long should be grazed first; these include orchardgrass, timothy hay aftermath, perennial ryegrass and even smoothbrome once it’s gone dormant. Then move to annual small grains as soil conditions permit.

“If you have any fall-seeded brassicas, now’s a good time to start grazing them if you have not already done so. Most brassicas are very high in water and nutrients and most likely are going to need a little dry matter such as hay or dry stockpiled forage to graze/eat with it to keep them in balance,” Shelton says.

If you’re considering grazing any alfalfa hay aftermath, be sure to allow the plants to go completely dormant before you start, which is usually in the same timeline as the first hard freeze. Graze then before leaf drop, and don’t graze under wet conditions to prevent crown damage; ideally leave a minimum of 3-4 in. of stubble for winter protection, he suggests.

The mainstay dominating stockpiled forage for the rest of the winter in the Midwest is most certainly tall fescue. If it’s dominantly new fall regrowth with adequate nitrogen from either applied nitrogen or from associated legumes, it will hold its nutritional value better than anything as long as it lasts.

“I believe the worst stockpiled tall fescue I ever tested was just before new growth in early March one year and it was still about 11% crude protein with a digestibility of almost 60% – still better than lots of hay that is fed,” Shelton says.

The best utilization method is in strips, starting on the watering tank end of the field and working across, ideally providing only 1-3 days of grazing at a time.

“You have to consider it standing ‘hay,’ and the more they have access to at one time, the more they will waste; the smaller the allocation, the higher the efficiency.”

Shelton says grazing stockpiled forages on some soils can be challenging. On poorly drained soils or soils with fragipans, grazing may need to be delayed until the soil is frozen. “Better to feed some hay now and save the pasture, then to have to replant pastures later because they got tore up,” he says.
-- Ohio Beef Cattle Letter