By Brandon Sears
With the temperatures dipping into the mid 20s, now is the time to graze off alfalfa fields.
In general, we recommend allowing alfalfa growth to accumulate for about six weeks before the first killing frost is anticipated (no grazing or cutting after Sept. 15).
This allows alfalfa plants to replenish root carbohydrate reserves before winter. However, once plants are dormant, the accumulated growth can be grazed by livestock. This should be done promptly, before the frozen leaves drop off.
Allow three days after a 25 degree freeze to graze. This will reduce bloat potential.
An added benefit of grazing the frosted forage is that it tends to reduce alfalfa weevil populations the following spring.
If possible, leave roughly 3 to 4 inches of stubble to catch and hold snow to reduce winter damage and minimize temperature fluctuations that may result in plant heaving.
To reduce bloat potential, fill cattle with hay and wait until the dew has burned off to turn them in. Offer free-choice hay if possible while grazing occurs; offer Rumensin or Bovatec prior to and during grazing, and finally, consider providing bloat blocks. Utilize strip grazing methods for maximum efficiency. Make sure fields are not too muddy for grazing as hoof traffic can damage alfalfa plant crowns in this situation.
Use stockpiled forage efficiently
Late summer and fall of this year were generally good times to stockpile grass pastures. However, grazing pastures efficiently is important to developing a low-cost winter feeding system. The most economical way is to strip graze the pastures.
By allocating forage in strips sized so that cattle can graze them within three days, animals consume 70 percent or more of the forage; by comparison, when given access to a two-week feed supply, animals will consume 40 percent or less of the forage.
That difference allows a significantly longer grazing period of quality forage for livestock. Many producers like to allocate a new strip every other day, which works well. If stockpiled grass is available, hay will only need to be fed if there is a cover of snow or ice.
Wait to graze stockpiled tall fescue forage until late this fall or winter. Be sure to properly use forage growth in other pastures before beginning to use stockpiled forage. The quality of stockpiled tall fescue can remain high even if grazed later in January. Generally, quality does decline into February however.