Cool-Season Forages

As fall and cooler weather approaches, cool season forages can be an important forage option for producers seeking to extend their grazing periods.

Types

Cool-season perennial grasses, such as fescue and orchardgrass, are good options to consider because they grow back each year.

“Perennial grasses should be the basis of what you grow,” said Gerry Thompson, Alabama Extension animal scientist.

Ryegrass, rye, wheat, oats and triticale are annual grasses that have to be replanted each year.

Producers need to begin preparing to plant both cool-season perennial and annual grasses in mid-September. Perennials can be planted using either “no till” or by using “conventional tillage” for establishment. Annuals that are being interseeded into existed warm season grasses need to be planted after the warm season grasses have stopped growing.

To get a meaningful amount of fall growth, planting rye in a prepared seedbed will likely provide the earliest cool-season growth. Any warm or cool season annual would benefit from being planted in a prepared seedbed, but it is more expensive than overseeding warm-season perennial grasses.

Benefits

Cool season forages allow the grazing period to be extended further into the year, they minimize the feeding of hay and it is typically a more economical way of feeding livestock.

“A general rule of thumb is that cool season grasses will be more nutritious than warm season grasses” said Thompson.

There also tend to be fewer insects or diseases to manage with cool season forages.

When to Graze

There is no specific day to begin cool season grazing. Producers will typically want to maximize the use of summer grasses for as long as possible before moving to cool season grasses.

Thompson says there will be a gap that is typically hard to fill, when warm season grasses become less productive and before cool season grasses are ready for grazing.

To some degree this can be addressed with improved forage management practices that might include stockpiling of perennial grasses.

Stockpiling Forages

Stockpiling forages is more than simply deferring grazing until later. It is fertilizing them at the right time and having a grazing management system in place that allows animals to “harvest” the grass in a controlled and timely manner said Thompson. The goal of stockpiling is to allow it to grow and make “standing hay” out of it.

Stockpiling is an economical and easy forage management technique. It allows cows to graze the fescue directly instead of cutting and baling it to be fed later.

Management

There are several ways for producers to manage their cool season forages more effectively:

  • Have some type of grazing management plan in place.
  • Make sure soil fertility is where it needs to be to ensure grasses will perform well.
  • Do not allow cool season perennial grasses to be overgrazed in the summer months because they will have diminished carbohydrate reserves available for fall growth.
  • Remember to fertilize cool season grasses in the fall to increase productivity.
  • When possible, stockpile fescue and other grasses for later use in the cooler months.

For More Information

For establishment recommendation with cool-season forages refer to the Alabama Planting Guide for Forage Grasses and the Alabama Planting Guide for Forage Legumes.

Find more information on extending grazing and reducing stored feed needs in the Timely Information- Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs sheet.

Contact your County Extension office for assistance reaching an Extension professional, or for more information.

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