Setting Your Fall Pastures Up For Success
One of the most important things you can do as a livestock operation to improve your profitability is to graze more days per year. The fall is an excellent time of year to extend your grazing season because you can accomplish this by making slight changes to what you already are doing. These seemingly small changes can make a big difference in both the current year’s grazing potential and also the future lifespan of your pasture. To fall graze without causing long term damage to your pastures takes planning. In other words, achieving sustainable profits from fall grazing isn’t as simple as just grazing more days; it’s about grazing at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way, which leads to long-term sustainable success.
The Three "Rights"
The Right Time
Grazing during summer is typically a straightforward time however, grazing during fall takes more management. Still, it can be the most profitable since the alternative to grazing in the fall is to feed hay, which is often the most expensive way to maintain livestock. Extending grazing longer into the fall allows your operation to lower its costs but requires significant management.
The Right Reason
Grazing in the fall to save expense is undoubtedly an excellent reason to extend your grazing season. However, we strongly recommend having contingencies in place just in case mother nature throws you a curveball. A contingency plan in the form of a sacrifice pasture, or enough hay to get through an unexpected rain event or blizzard, for example, is always advised.
The Right Way
Some people think you cannot damage grass that isn’t actively growing by grazing it short. However, grazing grass too short (for most grasses, this means below 4 inches) in the “off-season” will deny grass access to their energy stores (located in the basal steam). Over time, this will weaken your grass, shorten its persistence, and lengthen the time it takes to green-up in the spring. Additionally, fall is the time when most grasses are developing tillers that will grow the following spring. For this reason, grazing grass too short in the fall will lower forage availability in the coming growing season and, over time, will shorten the life of your stand.
Usually, the best way to graze perennial pastures in the fall is to moderately graze a pasture to a 60% - 65% utilization and then not to graze the pasture again until it has recovered. In most environments, this could mean not grazing this pasture again until the following late spring, early summer, or in some cases, even longer. Of course, this takes planning and requires enough pasture to allow this to happen.
No Pasture Availability?
If perennial pasture availability doesn’t make this a possibility, there are other options to allow fall grazing.
- Our cover crop blends provide forage options, (such as SS Supreme Fall Graze Mix) to fill forage gaps. The use of species like annual ryegrass and brassicas such as Barkant Turnip, Winfred hybrid brassica, Kale, and Barsica forage rape are excellent, cost-effective alternatives.
- In situations where land availability is an issue, “Pasture Cropping” is becoming an increasingly attractive approach. Pasture cropping entails planting forages like the ones mentioned above into existing perennial pasture. Using a no-till drill or, in some cases broadcasting the seed and using livestock trampling to incorporate the seed are viable options that facilitate the practice.
4 Things to Consider
What to Consider if Using Perennial Pastures for Fall Grazing
- Some grasses are better than others for fall grazing. Grasses that are hardy and stand up to heavier grazing pressure and which hold their nutritional value longer into fall are essential considerations. This makes tall fescue and bromegrass particularly suited for fall grazing. We offer a variety of tall fescues and bromegrasses that are ideal for fall grazing, in particular, STF-43 Tall Fescue, Milkway Fescue blend as well as Meadow and Prairie bromegrass are grasses we highly recommended.
- To not damage your perennial pasture while fall grazing, it is essential to start planning a year in advance. First, it is a generally accepted best practice not to graze the same pasture at the same time, year over year. This requires starting early to set up pasture rotations to allow this to happen.
- Depending on annual precipitation, and timing of frosts, having a fall pasture properly prepared usually requires grazing to be deferred and reserved for fall grazing. This means holding off grazing on this pasture. In some areas, this could mean pastures need to be set aside and reserved for fall grazing as early as early-mid summer, which further illustrates the need for early planning to set fall pastures up for success. It is crucial to keep in mind; this planning will save you money when it comes to feed costs in the fall.
- Fall grazing is asking a lot from most pasture grass; fortunately, our grasses are up to the challenge. With this being said, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t benefit from some help. Not only will proper grazing rotation ahead of fall help (per above) but a light application of fertilizer in later summer or early fall helps provide the grass with an extra boost to get it prepared for a fall grazing season.
Fall grazing is one of the best things an operation can do to lower overall feed costs and boost productivity; however, there are no free lunches. Implementing a fall grazing program requires planning and preparation. To learn more about the opportunity to graze our forages in the fall, please contact us.