Stockpiling Bermudagrass/Bahiagrass for Winter Forage
By: Ray Hicks, Screven County CEC
The cost of hay and feed for winter supplementation is one of the largest expenses for cattle producers. Stockpiling bermudagrass or bahiagrass fields for grazing use in the winter can help save on hay cost and labor. You can expect to get 30 to 60 days of grazing from this practice but to do this you need to follow a few management steps.
First we need to start with a quality product. One of your hybrid bermudagrasses like Tift 85 or Russell works best but you can use bahiagrass just knowing your quality and quantity is going to be lower. Optimal soil fertility is important. Make sure you have the pH level of the area that you are stockpiling in the desired range of 6-6.5 and have fertilized to soil test recommendations.
To prepare for stockpiling you need to either cut or graze your area down close about 8 weeks prior to the first killing frost for your area. Exclude grazing livestock from the stockpile area, then apply 40- 50 units of nitrogen per acre. Be patient because the growth of bermuda and bahia is slowing during the cooler months. You should be able to start grazing the stockpiled forage somewhere around 40 to 60 days after you have fertilized that last time. However, this is highly dependent on rainfall. If there is no rain, there will be no forage to stockpile.
To get the most out of stockpiled grazing you need to utilize strip or timed grazing. Being able to turn cows in on forage for a few hours and then bring them off works but it is very time consuming. If you just give them free range to the whole area they walk down and destroy a lot of forage. The best is to strip graze. Strip grazing is where a small “strip” of land is fenced off, most commonly with a hot wire or tape. Livestock will have access to graze until forage resources become limited. After forage availability declines, the fence will be moved to another “strip” where animals are then allowed to graze. This system works well when regrowth of forages will likely not occur, like stockpiled dormant forages. Make sure to look where your water source is located and how it works into your strip grazing plan.
It is always best to test this stockpiled forage to see where the protein and energy levels are. You may need to supplement according to the class of cattle that you are running on this forage.
Grazing stockpiled forage does take a little extra management but it can save you on time and labor as compared to feeding rolled hay. You can find more information on stockpiling forage and many other forage related topics at www.georgiaforages.com