While “grazing season” generally means a time between May and October in Nebraska, just because colder weather has returned doesn’t mean grazing is over. However, as the seasons change, our forage resources also change.

One of the most notable changes is in pasture. Warm season-dominated native grazing resources are down for the year. Their productivity has peaked and forage quality will continue to decline. Although not as digestible as before, winter pasture on the range can provide a decent amount of dry cow nutritional needs. Just keep an eye on the animal’s condition and be ready to supplement if necessary.

In cool season pastures, mainly bromegrass, plants can stay green for several more weeks. Humidity is the key factor here, and the dry summer and fall didn’t help. Yet, while plants have been able to grow, brief cold snaps will not yet push plants into full dormancy. Be careful, however, when grazing these pastures not to push things too far. With little fresh growth to use, animals will focus on whatever green plants are available. Overgrazing can easily occur even if the rest of the pasture is barely used.

One of the most economical options for fall grazing is crop residue. Corn stalks, in particular, can easily meet the protein and energy needs of a dry cow and are often cheaper to rent than pasture. As more crops roll out of the field, incorporating residue into a grazing plan is a great way to cut feed costs and give grazing a break.

Finally, let’s look at annual forage options. Again, we can divide our management into warm season and cool season crops. Warm season annuals such as forage sorghum, sorghum sudan hybrids and millets were likely killed by the last hard frosts. Remember that frost damage in sorghum and sudan species can lead to prussic acid poisoning. It is therefore important to stop for at least five days after a frost each time a new part of the plant is damaged. However, once the entire plant has been killed, continue grazing.

These warm season forages are best utilized as a stored forage resource. While haymaking and swath grazing are great options for use, both require temperatures and sun for proper drying. Trying to do it so late in the year can be sketchy. Use strip grazing of standing fields instead to increase utilization and limit trampling.

Cool-season forages like oats, crucifers, or other small grains can be a high-quality forage source if enough time has passed between planting and grazing. We need plenty of time for plants to grow and produce enough yield, so early planting is essential if fall grazing is a goal. However, if they grow and grow, these forages can be a very high quality grazing option. Species like rye that we want to graze next spring need to be handled with care. Although some fall grazing is allowed, pushing too hard can cause winter losses and slow spring growth. For non-winter hardy species such as oats and some crucifers, quality will be maintained well beyond the time when the plants die due to cold. In these cases, grazing now or storing for later are both excellent options.

With such quality, however, we want to use them appropriately. Grazing animals with high nutritional needs like yearlings, low body condition dry cows or lactating cows calving in the fall is a great option.

Similarly, limiting access to a small section at a time and providing lower quality hay for rumen fill can prevent this resource from being wasted on less stressed animals like dry cows.

Fall is not yet the time to retire from grazing, but we need to change management to match our grazing resources. Whether using a stocked native range, the last crop from a bromegrass pasture, crop residue, a standing sorghum-sudan hybrid field, or lush oat/brassica growth, balance the needs animals with your forage resource to get the most out of your pasture this fall.

Ben Beckman is a Beef Systems Extension Educator serving Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce counties. He is based at the Cedar County Extension Office in Hartington and can be reached by phone at 402-254-6821 or by email at [email protected]