Tall fescue is an excellent forage for use in a stockpiling program. The reason for this is that it produces a fair amount of high-quality growth during the fall and maintains this quality into the winter. In order to stockpile fescue, the field should be closely clipped (2 to 3 inch height) in late August and fertilized with 60 to 80 pounds of N per acre shortly thereafter. From this point on all forage growth will be deferred until November or December, at which time it will be used by the cow herd.
The forage should be used as you would use your hay, under controlled access. Just as you would not put all of your hay out to the cow herd at one time, you should not allow the cows unlimited access to the stockpiled fescue. The best way to use it is to strip-graze the field.
The next consideration is how much to offer. In general, with an application of 60 to 80 pounds of N per acre and adequate rainfall we would expect to accumulate about 1.25 to 2 tons of forage per acre. For this particular example I am going to use 1.5 tons per acre. In fact with a good stand of fescue you might estimate between 200 and 300 pounds of forage/acre for each inch of fescue height. Let's assume that we have a 20-acre field of stockpiled fescue with an estimated 3000 pounds per acre and we have 60 cows that we have already sold the calves off of and they will calve again in February and March. It is December 1st and we are going to begin to use the stockpiled fescue. The quality of the stockpiled forage is more that adequate for a late-pregnancy cow so the main objective will be to offer the appropriate quantity.
On average these cows should consume approximately 25 pounds of forage per cow per day. So 60 cows will need 1500 pounds of forage per day and in our particular field this would be a half an acre per day. With the use of a temporary electric fence this becomes a very routine procedure of moving the fence a few feet each day. Based on these calculations we would have a 40-day supply of feed. So the end result is that you have eliminated 40 days of feeding hay to your herd. Once you have tried this you will become a firm believer in the use of stockpiled fescue.
Like all management procedures there are also some pitfalls associated with stockpiled fescue. First, it is very rainfall dependent and some autumns in Alabama can be quite dry. Also, in at least one instance, putting too much nitrogen on the fescue resulted in a classical "fescue foot" problem in some cows later on in December and January. The nitrogen was in the form of chicken litter and thus was economical and high rates were applied.