The Right Time
Grazing during summer, depending upon where your operation is located, is typically a pretty straightforward time. However, grazing during Fall takes more management. Still, it can be the most profitable since the alternative to grazing in the Fall is to feed hay, which is almost always the most expensive way to maintain livestock. Extending grazing longer into Fall allows your operation to lower its costs but requires some significant management.
The Right Reason
Grazing in the Fall to save expense is undoubtedly an excellent reason to extend your grazing season. However, we strongly recommend having contingencies in place just in case mother nature throws you a curve-ball. Contingency plans in the form of a sacrifice pasture, or enough hay to get through an unexpected blizzard, etc. is always advised.
The Right Way
Some people think you can’t damage grass that isn’t actively growing by grazing it short. However, grazing grass too short (for most grasses, this means below 4 inches) in the “off-season” will deny grass access to their energy stores (located in the basal steam). Over time, this will weaken your grass, shorten its persistence, and lengthen the time it takes to green-up in the spring. Additionally, Fall is the time when most grasses are developing tillers that will grow the following spring. For this reason, grazing grass too short in the Fall will lower forage availability in the coming growing season and, over time, will shorten the life of your stand.
Usually, the best way to graze perennial pastures in the Fall is to moderately graze a pasture to a 60% - 65% utilization and then not to graze the pasture again until it has recovered. In most environments, this could mean not grazing this pasture again until the following late spring, early summer, or in some cases, even longer. Of course, this takes planning and requires enough pasture to allow this to happen.