It’s not too early to begin making preparations for winter cattle feeding. Winter feed accounts for a large part of a cattle producer’s costs. Grazing stockpiled forages during the winter can often reduce feed costs significantly. Stockpiled forages can provide high quality feed well into the winter months.

For more information about the value of applying nitrogen fertilizer to grow stockpiled forages

compared to purchasing additional hay or grain visit the decision tool at www.extension.missouri.edulinnagriculture.aspx on the Linn County Extension Office website.

Mindful selection of the pastures to stockpile is important. Begin by choosing pastures that are relatively weed free. Weeds break up the canopy and allow cold temperatures to infiltrate down into the forage earlier in the season. Tall fescue is the most common forage stockpiled for winter grazing. The upright growth pattern and waxy coating on the leaves make tall fescue less susceptible to freeze damage than many of the other cool season grasses. The top of the canopy will turn brown from cold temperatures, but underneath, dense stands of tall fescue will remain green well past January 1.

Prepare the pastures to be stockpiled in late summer by grazing or mowing forage to a four-inch stubble height. Apply nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 50 to 80 pounds per acre by mid-August. This allows enough time for maximum forage growth before winter. On average, tall fescue will produce approximately 20 pounds of dry matter for every pound of nitrogen fertilizer applied in August. Yield may be higher when moisture is not limiting.

Ammonium nitrate or polymer coated urea are the best sources of nitrogen to apply. Untreated urea fertilizer can rapidly volatilize if adequate rainfall is not received immediately after application, making it a less desirable fertilizer choice, especially this time of year when temperatures are warm. Ammonium sulfate fertilizer is also effective.

The quality and quantity of the forage available will decline as the winter progresses. High quality stockpile will have about 17 percent crude protein in December and will decline to about 12 percent by March. Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) will drop about 5 percentage points from December to March. The amount of forage available will also decline through the winter, dropping by 40 to 45 percent from December to March.

Spring applications of nitrogen fertilizer can be detrimental to the legumes in the stand, but fall

applications are much less damaging. However, pastures with a high legume content should be grazed early in the season. These will deteriorate more rapidly due to the weather than pure grass stands.

Utilization of the forage can be increased by using strip grazing. Start grazing close to the water source and progressively provide more pasture to the animals every 3 to 7 days. Cattle can readily graze stockpiled forages through snow, even up to six inches of snow, but a quarter to a half an inch of ice can be detrimental to grazing.

For more information, contact Valerie Tate, agronomy specialist for University of Missouri. Extension by email at or by phone at 660-895-5123. University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.

Valerie Tate, is an agronomy specialist for University of Missouri.