In Georgia, livestock farmers have a unique advantage: they can continue to grow and feed their animals on fresh forage even during the winter months. This ability to manage a year-round forage system is crucial for keeping livestock healthy while minimizing expenses. The key lies in extending the grazing seasons and making sure the forage quality is optimal. This not only reduces the need for expensive hay and feed but also ensures that the animals stay healthy and in good shape throughout fall and winter. Let’s delve into effective techniques for managing winter forage and essential testing services that enhance livestock nutrition.

Keeping the productivity of warm-season grasses going into fall and establishing cool-season species is essential for a year-round forage system. The cost of hay and feed depends on how long you have to supplement your animals’ grazing in winter. One way to extend the grazing period by 30 to 60 days is by stockpiling warm-season species like Bermuda or Bahia grass. Start by testing the soil and adding lime and fertilizer to promote healthy forage growth. Around eight weeks before the first frost, graze or cut the field and remove the animals. Then, apply 40-50 units of nitrogen per acre and allow the field to regrow for 45-60 days. Keep in mind that forage growth slows down in cool weather. Also, use rotational or strip grazing to minimize waste and make the most of your stockpiled forage.

Another option is planting cool-season annual grasses, with annual ryegrass being a popular choice. Plant these species in mid-October, let them grow to 6-8 inches, and then allow your animals to graze. Adjust your stocking rates and rotational grazing schedule according to the growth pattern of these winter forages. They usually grow slowly early in winter but speed up in late winter and early spring. Consider fertilizing at planting and in January-February to encourage later winter and early spring growth. Adding legumes like clover can reduce the need for nitrogen. Once your warm-season pastures start growing, be sure to remove the cool-season annuals as they can affect warm-season performance negatively.

Even with an excellent forage system, you may still need to provide supplemental hay or feed. Hay quality is typically assessed based on visual factors like stem-to-leaf ratio, presence of seed heads, and the presence of weeds or foreign materials. However, a forage test can provide precise information about the nutritional content of your forage, including protein, carbohydrates, and nitrate levels. The Lincoln County Extension Office offers a hay probe for you to use, allowing you to analyze hay samples at a cost of $20 each. The results, usually available within 7-10 days, help you match forage quality with your animals’ specific nutrient needs. For example, animals that are lactating require higher-quality forage.

Optimizing winter forage resources not only keeps livestock healthy and productive but also significantly impacts a farmer’s profits. If you have any questions about managing winter forage resources, feel free to reach out to us at or 706-359-3233.

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