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Do you have any tips to extend the grazing season?


The growth phase of the pasture season is coming to a rapid end as we advance through the fall. However, we still have plenty of options to optimize fall grazing in the transition to winter. One of the keys to extending the grazing season is to stockpile pasture forage.

If you manage pastures well throughout the grazing season, your pasture species are healthy and able to get a late summer/early fall growth spurt as summer temperatures cool and fall rains come. The pasture growth curve shows a late-summer/early-fall increase in pasture growth potential. If you maintain healthy roots and residual leaf volume post-grazing through the season, you will get a nice boost in fall pasture growth.

As we lose daylight and growing degree days, we need to take special care of our grazing feed inventory. Stockpiled pasture can take us long into fall, but we need to balance grazing potential with weather conditions. Rains and early snow can diminish the amount of growth and substantially increase the potential trampling damage in terms of available forage volume and physical damage to sward species. This is a balancing act most seasons as the water infiltration rates slow due to cool or frozen soils.

As we graze at the end of October, we have dealt with an incredibly wet season. A neighbor who does crop reports has recorded 53.5 inches of rain since April 15, this coming after record-high late winter snowfall. Pastures have been challenged every step of the way; rapid cattle movement and reseeding some damaged spots has really paid off and helped limit the trampling damage. We have grazed when no equipment could possibly travel through crop fields. This sward and root mass density helps support the physical weight and movement of the cattle.

The slowing growth rate in fall requires that we stockpile forage to extend the grazing season. Planning involves setting aside paddocks 60 or so days before grazing and picking paddocks that have plants that have better palatability when frozen. Some graziers select an array of annual or late-season crops to give a boost to fall forage production. Oats, winter wheat, rye, and triticale are becoming more popular. Millet, brassicas, and turnips are also grown for forage. One caution is that if treacherous winter weather or rain is in the forecast, we need to consider mechanically harvesting the forage if it is likely to get damaged or made unavailable for harvest due to wet conditions. We had to make that decision on one of the few days baling could take place.

When we need to start feeding hay on our farm, we move several bale feeder wagons and poly bale rings from paddock to paddock. This helps spread out the animal impact while providing manure distribution benefits. Paddocks that need renovation and fertility can be good places to feed bales in the transition times and during winter. We find that flexibility in moving feeding equipment on lanes and through fencing is very key to helping cattle spread the nutrients evenly. Some graziers pre-place bales in various strategies. This helps eliminate the compaction and rut damage from equipment during wet times.

Water availability is also key to extending the grazing season. Waterline systems can be used for an extended period if we have some means to prevent freezing. Above-ground waterlines can be blown out with an air compressor to prevent damage. Some graziers utilize waterlines daily after it warms to above freezing. Buried and insulated water systems are higher investments up front but are very useful. Water wagons and stock tanks are very commonly used after freezing temperatures set in.

If you’d like advice specific to your situation, you can reach me through the Marbleseed Organic Answer Line, 888-906-6737, or by email at specialist@marbleseed.org.

Posted: Sep 2021
Answer By: Kevin Mahalko