Even though winter is five months away, it is time to think about and plan your winter cattle feeding strategy according to Patrick Davis, Livestock Field Specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

"One of the primary forages in southwest Missouri is fescue. Stockpiling tall fescue for winter feeding is an economical and useful tool for your winter cattle-feeding program," said Davis. "A discussion of growing and managing stockpiled tall fescue in a winter feeding program to reduce input cost and improve the profitability of your cattle operation is in order."

Davis says to begin stockpiling tall fescue by clipping or grazing the fescue pasture to 3 to 4 inches and adding 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen in early August. Remove these pastures from the grazing rotation until winter to allow fall fescue growth to accumulate.

By adding the nitrogen and removing pasture from rotation in early August, there is an increase in pounds of dry mater yield compared to later in the fall which results in more efficient utilization of the fertility and more pounds of forage to graze.

"In addition to adequate forage accumulation, management of stockpiled tall fescue during grazing is important to maintain high forage quality and get the most efficient utilization out of that forage," said Davis.

Maintenance of the waxy cuticle layer on the fescue helps to maintain its quality through the winter grazing season. Strip grazing the stockpile is an efficient way to utilize forage and limit disturbance of the waxy layer, which helps maintain stockpile quality as long as possible.

When strip grazing, use an electric wire to allocate 2% to 3% of cattle body weight on forage dry matter basis for grazing.

"Wait to graze fescue until later in the winter feeding season," said Davis.

Concentration of ergovaline, which is toxic to cattle, declines in the stockpile later in the winter. University of Missouri reported that in mid-January through February concentrations of ergovaline are more likely to be below the cattle toxic threshold level of 200 ppb.

By waiting until this time to graze the stockpile, cattle are less likely to exhibit fescue toxicosis symptoms and have improved health and performance.

For more information related to producing and grazing stockpile tall fescue, contact an MU Extension livestock or agronomy specialists in southwest Missouri. 

More information is also available online at https://extension2.missouri.edu/programs/nrcs-mu-grasslands-project.

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