Here's How To Evaluate Your Winter Stockpiled Forage

The Grazier's Art

As winter sets in you should switch to ultra-high-density grazing stockpiled forage and estimate days of reserve.

Published on: October 17, 2013

As winter is approaching we need to evaluate how many cow days of forage we have in reserve as stockpile.

I usually leave half of the ranch to grow through the growing season with no grazing or sometimes one grazing. This will depend on how reliable rainfall is historically in that place.

After growing and re-growing for a full growing season -- meaning spring, summer and part of fall -- the sward should be very dense, especially if it was intensively grazed the previous year, leading to much more forage density and a higher leaf to stem ratio.

This means we should have a high tonnage per acre of accumulated forage when we finally start to graze it at the end of fall and/or start of winter.

By allowing the forages to express their growth potential and being able to go to seed we achieve changes in the soil life and eventually structure as the roots can grow deeper and the microorganisms have the moisture and shade necessary for their growth and multiplication.

Of course, as I have explained in previous blogs, is not the best practice to have the same paddocks left for stockpile every year; the shade would be excessive, impeding seedlings from establishing and leading to wider plant spacing and lower leaf-to-stem ratio. We need to remember that leaf is what promotes good gains or animal performance.

When we start to graze this stockpile forage we want good harvest efficiency, which normally can be achieved with four moves per day using ultra-high-density grazing.

The goal is to improve harvest efficiency and help maintain an adequate level of nutrition, extremely important considering the pressure we're exerting on the animals with the high consumption levels in non-selective grazing. Moving four times a day to fresh forage leads to better animal performance than once-a-day moves with the same amount of forage. Remember that even at ultra-high density, animals select and consume the best forage when they first go into a paddock.

Water need not be very close as beef cattle can walk some distance without problem.

After you have moved them this way for three to four days you will be able to evaluate how much area they consumed and from there predict how many days of forage you have left. Usually, with half the ranch in stockpile I have around 240 days, which allows me to adjust well in advance of any problems.

In the next blog I will write about using protein supplements when needed.