Alternatives to Hay Production with Johnsongrass in the Fall for Beef Cattle


  • Will Henry


One of the major obstacles in any cow-calf operation is the provision of adequate nutrition during the wintertime months when natural vegetation is sparse. There are several methods by which this may be accomplished, most commonly by the practices of feeding hay or by turning cattle out onto fresh pasture containing stockpiled forage that has been allowed to fully mature. Johnsongrass is a warm-season perennial with high yield potential, but hay-making conditions are poor in fall as temperatures decline. In recent years, another method known as “swath grazing” has seen increased use. This method involves cutting mature forages in the fall and leaving them out in the field for grazing in the wintertime months. This study focuses primarily on determining which method of feeding johnsongrass forage – stockpiling or swath grazing – presents the better solution for the cattle producer based on plant tissue losses from the weathering process, including freeze-thaw cycles, and the subsequent nutrient leaching that it entails. Over the course of the study, five representative samples were taken from a plot of johnsongrass at Shipley Farm. Samples of standing forage were cut on Oct. 17, Oct. 25, Nov. 1, and Nov. 29, and a sample of forage that had previously been swathed Oct 17 was taken up and measured on Oct. 25. The samples were dried, and masses of seed heads, stems, and leaves were measured. Nutrient content of each sample was also measured to determine the amount of nutrient leaching that had occurred.