When it’s 100 degrees outside, winter may seem ages away, but planning for fall grazing and winter forage needs to start long before the mercury drops.

Brassicas need to be planted in late August to early September to provide grazeable forage by late October, according to John Jennings and Paul Beck, animal science professors at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Forage brassica, which can be grazed through December, work well in combination with ryegrass that produces forage for spring grazing. “Forage brassica varieties are much more productive than garden-type varieties,” Jennings said.

Planting small grains and ryegrass can be done in September through November to be ready for grazing at staggered times of the winter months.

  • To be ready for grazing by early November, small grains and ryegrass must be planted by Sept. 15 on a tilled seedbed or no-tilled into harvested crop fields.
  • To enable grazing by early December, producers should plant winter annuals in crop fields from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1 or interseed them into warm-season grass sod.
  • Planting annuals after mid-October into November will establish them, but forage production will be delayed for grazing until February to early March.

Fertilizer application for late plantings can be delayed until February since growth potential is limited during mid-winter. 

Beck recommended that farmers plant one-tenth of an acre per cow per day of the week to be grazed through the winter. If cows are limited to grazing three days a week, a farmer should plant three-tenths of an acre per cow. That would add up to 15 acres for 50 cows.

Research by Beck has shown that cows performed well when they were limited to grazing on winter annuals to two eight-hour days a week, and were fed hay the remaining time. 

“As forage growth increases during the early spring, cows can be allowed to graze more frequently,” Jennings said. “This is an effective way to match the increased nutrient requirements of spring calving cowherds and to supplement low quality hay. Some acres can be planted early for fall/winter and spring pasture and other acres can be planted in October for spring grazing to match herd needs.”

For more information about forage production, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.