In the Piedmont and mountain regions of North Carolina, tall fescue is the main forage used on pastures. Much of the pastureland is continuously stocked, with little thought going towards managing this valuable resource. The lack of thoughtful management may result in reduced yields and cause negative environmental impacts.
To stimulate interest in pastureland management, a series of on-farm demonstration workshops were conducted from 2009 to 2011 to promote the stockpiling and efficient utilization of late summer fescue growth for winter grazing. Working with county extension agents, 21 farms were selected in 12 North Carolina counties representing 397 acres of fescue.
A total of 32 workshops were conducted over the three-year period to demonstrate the benefits of managed grazing coupled with stockpiled fescue. Workshops were open to the public and publicized by local extension agents. Measurements of forage quantity, quality and botanical composition were made at each site over the course of each growing season. Host producers tracked time spent moving fences and feeding their cattle, fertilizer applications and feed and equipment costs for the grazing period.
- Over the three growing seasons, area grazed for the workshops per farm was 13 acres (± 5.65,) and herd size varied from 6 to 90 animals but averaged 20.5 ±10.2 standard animal units where standard animal units = 1,200 lb. body weight. Mean dry matter yield was 2,789 lb/acre. Forage available for grazing was about 50% fescue, with the remainder being other cool-season grasses or broadleaf weeds.
- Fescue endophyte infection rate averaged 89% (±13%). Fresh forage had greater CP and TDN and reduced ADF contents than did hay fed at the same sites (14.6% CP, 67.8% TDN, and 31.3% ADF vs. 10.8% CP, 59.3% TDN, and 41.0% ADF for fresh forage and hay, respectively).
- Grazing stockpiled forage typically began around December 15 and ended in mid-February to cover a period of 63 days.
- Producers attained an average of 93 standard animal unit grazing days/acres and the cost per standard animal units per day was $1.41 with a range of $0.22 to $2.84.
- Estimated costs for feeding hay during the same period of time and for the same herds were $2.51/standard animal units/day.
Managed grazing therefore offered the producers an opportunity to save about 1.10/standard animal units/day of grazing as compared with feeding hay and provided a higher plain of nutrition.