Winter feeding programs contribute heavily to the overall costs of cow-calf production systems. Traditional winter-feeding programs in Texas have consisted of only using hay for many years. This practice, however, is generally an expensive method of wintering cattle (Fig. 1).
A different approach could use a standing hay crop left in the field for grazing during fall and early winter. Stockpiled Bermuda grass can provide the required nutrition for dry, pregnant cows through January if the appropriate procedure is followed (Fig. 2).
- Graze the pasture to a 1-2 inch stubble height or harvest the final cutting of hay in preparation for fertilization approximately six to eight weeks prior to first anticipated frost.
- Apply fertilizer based on soil test recommendations for moderate grazing.
- Defer pasture(s) from grazing and allow forage to accumulate until after frost.
Crude protein is relatively unaffected by weather, and this is why we can usually graze into January. The energy content will be impacted; thus the reason grazing cannot continue until spring green-up. Initiate grazing whenever most forage has been grazed and one would typically start to feed hay. Provide cows with one to two days of forage and allow the cattle to harvest 65% of the standing forage. The top two-thirds of the stockpiled forage is primarily leaf and provides good nutrition. If cows continue to graze closer than the top 65%, they will be consuming mostly stems, which is much lower in nutritive value.
After cows graze stockpiled forage to the appropriate height, advance the electric wire or allow access to other pastures to provide additional days of grazing. If grazing is not controlled, cattle will selectively harvest the leaves the first four to five weeks and leave the stems. When the stockpiled forage is completely grazed, it will be time to start a traditional hay feeding program or initiate grazing cool-season annuals.
A limited amount of hay may be needed until the cool-season annual is ready to be grazed. Be sure to provide free-choice loose mineral supplement to the cattle and closely monitor the body condition of the cattle. Other warm-season perennial forages may be substituted for Bermuda grass based on data obtained at Overton and earlier work in South Texas. If the system experiences a break down, switch to Plan B — hay stored in the barn.
In most instances, stockpiled Bermuda grass should be used up by mid-January. Once the stockpiled Bermuda grass is completely grazed, a shift to another Bermuda grass pasture overseeded with annual ryegrass can provide necessary nutrition throughout the remainder of the winter-feeding period. A short period of hay feeding may be necessary until the ryegrass pastures are ready to be grazed. These changes in winter feeding programs, however, can substantially reduce winter feeding costs (Fig. 1).
Adequate moisture combined with the appropriate fertility program will produce a higher Bermuda grass quantity and nutritive value. If fertilizer is not applied after cutting or grazing in late August and September, producers may still take advantage of accumulated forage during the fall. There will not be as much forage accumulated and forage nutritive value will be lower. The forage, however, may still be utilized with appropriate supplementation. Note that if adequate moisture is not received during September, October and November, little Bermuda grass will be produced. This protocol is designed to provide stockpiled Bermuda grass that will provide 8-14% crude protein and >50% total digestible nutrients, TDN, through January.
For more information, please visit https://forages.tamu.edu.
– by Larry Redmon, Ph.D., professor/associate department head, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state forage specialist, College Station