Time to Stockpile Tall Fescue

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Tall fescue is sometimes referred to as the “wonder grass”. It can persist through overgrazing, poor fertility, and drought better than other cool-season perennials, such as orchardgrass. Tall fescue is the predominant species in pastures in Stokes County, giving the opportunity to take advantage of stockpiled tall fescue during the winter months, effectively extending the grazing season and lessening the need for stored forage.

Heifers grazing stockpiled tall fescue

Heifers grazing stockpiled tall fescue at the Butner Beef Cattle Field Laboratory. November 13th, 2020

Stockpiling tall fescue begins in August by grazing or mowing the forage to a height of 3-4″. Tall fescue grows rapidly during the cool weather of spring and fall. For this reason, it is common for nitrogen fertilizer to be applied to increase fall growth. Typical nitrogen fertilizer applications for stockpiling range from 40-80 units of nitrogen per acre, although greater amounts of fertilizer do not always result in a return on investment through significantly increased yield.

Instead of being grazed or harvested, forage remains untouched while actively growing. After all other standing forage on the farm has been utilized, animals are moved to the stockpiled tall fescue, typically in November or December. Depending on stocking density, accumulated forage, and grazing management, stockpiled tall fescue can sometimes be grazed into February of the following year. The quality of stockpiled tall fescue has been reported to meet, and sometimes exceed, the nutrient requirements of dry cows.

Heifers rotating onto ungrazed stockpiled tall fescue

Heifers rotating onto ungrazed stockpiled tall fescue. An already grazed portion is seen in the foreground. November 11th, 2020.

It is important to remember that weather can greatly impact the ability to stockpile and graze stockpiled tall fescue. If drought conditions occur during August and September, yield will be decreased. Alternatively, if the ground remains wet during the grazing period, pugging damage will occur.

Cows eating grass

Questions about stockpiled tall fescue? Contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Stokes County office at 336-593-8179