Reasons to stockpile tall fescue this year

There are a lot of pressures on profitability right now. I have been doing a deep dive into hay production this year, trying to get a handle on the complexity, the science and the art of making good hay. What does this have to do with stockpiling tall fescue? Hay supplies and fall grazing are dynamically linked – the more grazing we can do in the late fall and early winter, the longer our hay supplies will last. And with the fires and drought in the west as well as untimely rains here, it may be a tight year for some types of hay. Here are several reasons why this might be the year for stockpiling of tall fescue.

Extend your grazing season and save hay by considering stockpiling tall fescue this fall. Having a rested tall fescue pasture (not overgrazed), the ability to make timely applications of nitrogen and the capability to strip graze are all good reasons this may be the year to stockpile. (Photo by Chris Teutsch, University of Kentucky.)

Longer grazing season. Stockpiling is producing forage now for use later. Using fall stockpiled forages is a great way to extend the grazing season into early winter and reduce the reliance on hay or supplements. Nitrogen fertilizer applied in August/early September will produce more yield per pound of nitrogen than later September or October applications.

Tall fescue is the ideal grass for stockpiling. Stockpiling is growing forage now for use later. Tall fescue is the ideal grass for fall stockpiling because it retains its quality and digestibility into late fall and early winter better than other grasses and legumes. Freezes and rain quickly degrade the quality of legumes and other cool season grasses. Tall fescue on the other hand will maintain leaf integrity through freezes and weather and therefore the forage quality will remain high.

Good stockpiled tall fescue is excellent forage for fall weaned calves as well as for the fall calving cow herd. Quality values for fall tall fescue can approach 20 percent crude protein and mid-60’s in total digestible nutrients. These values are far superior to most fescue hay. Protein content and digestibility decline at a slower rate over the winter compared to other forages.

Fescue toxicity from the endophyte tends to be low in fall stockpiled tall fescue. Although fescue toxicity can peak in the early fall, freezes will generally cause the toxic alkaloid levels to fall to near zero. Endophyte-free and novel endophyte tall fescues stockpile equally well as KY 31 and will not have toxicity potential at all. Use moderate levels of nitrogen fertilizer (use 60 or less pounds of actual nitrogen per acre, equivalent to 130 pounds of urea that is 46% nitrogen) to avoid the overproduction of the endophyte toxic alkaloids in the fall.

Pastures are in good shape to respond well to nitrogen. . Many areas have received enough rainfall to have excess pasture acres that will be perfect for stockpiling. Pastures that have not been overgrazed will respond most to fall nitrogen fertilizer. For best results, stockpiling should begin by mid-August. If excessive growth is present, mow or graze the fescue down to four to six inches to allow for new growth. Remove grazing livestock and find a good opportunity to apply nitrogen. Fall applied nitrogen is most efficient in producing additional yield when applied in late summer/early fall, as early as mid-August.

Avoid nitrogen loses by timing or adding urease inhibitors. Urea-based products are the most common sources of nitrogen for fall stockpiling. Urea applied to dry soil during hot conditions is subject to nitrogen loss due to urease activity in the soil. Urease is an enzyme that breaks urea down before it can be used by the plant. Urease is widespread in the environment. We can avoid this nitrogen loss by application in advance of a coming rain event or using urea that’s been treated with a urease inhibitor. Consult soil test values to determine if lime, P or K is needed. It is important to take current prices and individual situations into consideration when deciding if this practice will be cost-effective.

Strip allocation of stockpiled tall fescue will extend the grazing period. Missouri research showed that giving cattle a three-day vs seven-day supply of stockpiled tall fescue increased grazing days by 45% due to less trampling and less manure on fresh forage.  Stockpiled fescue can be grazed close with little effect on spring regrowth so utilization efficiency is high. In fact, tightly grazed stockpiled tall fescue pastures can be a good place to frost-seed clover in late winter. For more information on stockpiling tall fescue, see ‘Stockpiling for fall and winter pasture’ (

~Jimmy Henning, Farmers Pride