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Grazing fescue? Stockpile & fertilize, expert says

Jeff Caldwell 07/14/2013 @ 8:40am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Though hay supplies in some areas have bounced back in many areas after a poor start to the growing season this spring, you still may be facing a potential shortfall in hay stocks moving toward fall. The good news is there's something you can do about it.

This spring's wet, cool weather made for a tough start to the hay crop in a lot of areas, and the hay that was able to be baled may not have been in the best condition. But weather conditions -- and the hay crop itself -- have improved since then, meaning prices could be on their way down after a couple of years of painful hay bills for ranchers.

Whether the hay crop is any good depends a lot on geography. If you're in the northeast or eastern Corn Belt, for example, you've probably got better stands than in the Plains, where drought is still a major concern and price driver. If you're in the latter camp, experts say you can make a big difference by strategically applying fertilizer and letting your cattle do some of the work for you.

"Stockpiling fall forage can stretch your hay supply by delaying how early you start feeding hay, plus reduce your harvesting costs," says University of Missouri Extension agronomist Pat Miller. "Think of it as letting the cows do their own harvesting."

Stockpiling pasture is a way you can do this, especially if your hay stock mostly comprises fall fescue. If that's the case, though, you may need to give it a nitrogen boost. Miller recommends putting down 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre ahead of the critical August and September timeframe for the forage.

"For the fertilizer to benefit the fall growth, it needs to be applied mid- to late July," Miller says, adding that a stockpiled grazing approach can do a lot to extend your fescue stand if you fertilize, remove cattle in early August, and return them in early October.

“The best way to utilize this stockpiled fescue is to strip-graze or limit-graze,” Miller says.

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