Now is the time to start thinking about forage management for next fall and winter. Whenever winter forage management is discussed, most people think of feeding hay or utilizing small grain pasture. Have you ever considered using bermudagrass as dry-standing forage from late November though January? In most years, when conditions are right it can easily be done.
Our region provides excellent growing conditions to yield a ton of forage per acre through the fall. Rainfall received in early fall plays a significant role in fall forage production. The average rainfall totals for September and October are 4.2 and 3.7 inches respectively (Figure 1).
In late summer, grazing should be deferred and additional nitrogen fertilizer should be applied. Sixty to eighty pounds of actual nitrogen per acre should be applied from August 1 to September 1. Again, all grazing should be deferred through the fall until the first killing freeze. For our region, the freeze date can range from late October to early December. This freeze will force bermudagrass into dormancy and grazing can begin anytime after this date.
The quality of dry-standing bermudagrass remains extremely high well after it goes dormant. It is not uncommon to have bermudagrass with 11% protein well into January. Remember that a dry cow will only need approximately 8% protein to maintain body condition. Therefore, very little, if any, supplement will be needed through this period. Stockpiled bermudagrass fits well with a spring-calving herd.
Strip grazing allows better forage use efficiency when grazing dry-standing bermudagrass. If cattle are given full access, then a large percentage of pasture will be wasted due to trampling and animal waste. By simply using a single-wire electric fence, you can allow enough forage to carry the herd approximately three days. The number of days will vary depending on how often you want to move fence. Experience has shown that moving the fence around every three days will not only provide better forage utilization, but will support the cow better by keeping her on a quality forage. As the cattle cleanup the given area, move the fence to allow access to some more of the bermudagrass.
At the Red River Demonstration & Research Farm, south of Burneyville, Okla., nitrogen was applied to three bermudagrass pastures in early August of last year. A rate of 60 pounds actual nitrogen per acre was applied over 24 acres. Rain began in the middle of September and remained steady throughout the fall. The first killing freeze was not until December 20, which is unusually late for that area. Strip grazing began November 18, 1998 and continued until January 11, 1999. From August through December an average of 4,261 pounds of forage was produced per acre. Total forage production was measured by available animal unit days of grazing. If pounds of forage produced per unit nitrogen applied was measured, you would find that one pound of nitrogen produced 71 pounds of forage.
It is important to note that 100 pounds of actual nitrogen was applied in the spring and due to the lack of rain, very little forage was produced through the summer. This allowed spring-applied nitrogen to carry over into the fall. This forage produced throughout the fall was enough to carry 48 head for 54 days. By applying this forage management practice, the stockpiled bermudagrass replaced the need for hay and therefore, reduced hay feeding by two months.
It is important to remember that stockpiled bermudagrass yields will vary from year to year depending on rainfall, fertility and freeze date. Last fall provided excellent conditions to stockpile bermudagrass. Also, if the winter is wet, then dry-standing forage can decompose quicker than in a dry winter. The weather plays an extremely important role in the success or failure of stockpiling bermudagrass.