August is the time to begin stockpiling bermudagrass for fall-to-early-winter grazing, said Dirk Philipp, associate professor of Animal Science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Stockpiling bermudagrass can offer ranchers a significant savings.

“Demonstrations in Arkansas under the project ‘Reducing Winter Feeding Costs,’ showed that the savings in winter feeding costs were about $20 per head of grazing stockpiled warm-season forages,” Philipp said.

Bermudagrass is a solid choice for stockpiling, because it is the most common forage in the state besides tall fescue and is adapted to a wide range of conditions.

“Since bermudagrass is a warm-season grass, it does not stay green as long in the fall as fescue, so preparations for stockpiling this forage have to be initiated much earlier,” he said. “Bermudagrass stockpiling should start early to mid-August in northern Arkansas and late August in southern Arkansas to allow for enough time to accumulate enough growth.”

Bermudagrass does its best growing between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit and declines sharply if temperatures drop below 60 degrees at night.

To get the process started, Philipp said ranchers should:

  • Remove existing forage residue in late July to early August to leave a stubble of 2-3 inches.
  • Fertilize with 50-60 pounds of nitrogen per acre in early to mid-August.
  • If using ammonium nitrate is used as fertilizer no volatilization will occur.
  • If urea is applied, some volatilization may occur but this may be limited to a maximum of 20 percent and lower if rainfall occurs within a week after application.
  • Apply other minerals such as phosphorus and potassium according to soil test results.

 Strip grazing works best

Philipp said growers should defer grazing until late October. When that time comes, ranchers should “strip-graze or rotationally graze livestock,” he said. “Strip grazing works best because animals won’t trample ungrazed forage.

In Arkansas demonstrations, strip grazing doubled the number of grazing days compared with a continuously stocked pasture of stockpiled forage.

Strip width can be calculated from three factors:  the daily forage dry matter required for the class and number of animals; the forage dry matter; and the width of the pasture to be grazed for a three-day grazing period.

Because stockpiled bermudagrass can be grazed into December, Philipp said it’s important to keep in mind the effects of cold on this forage.

“Forage quality declines after a killing frost,” he said, “and if the bermudagrass has been repeatedly snowed on or subjected to freezing temperatures, the plants lose leaves and digestibility declines.”