Comparison of Stockpiled Bermudagrass + Annual Ryegrass and Traditional Hay-Only Winter Feeding Practices

Final Report for OS04-021

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2004: $14,645.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Larry Redmon
Texas Cooperative Extension
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Project Information


We found that substantial savings could be realized during the winter for beef cattle producers who used a combination of stockpiled bermudagrass plus ryegrass compared with traditional hay-only winter feeding programs. The economic savings, however, did not come at any detriment to beef cows as evidenced by similar Body Condition Scores between the two treatment groups.

Tables, figures or graphs mentioned in this report
are on file in the Southern SARE office.
Contact Sue Blum at 770-229-3350 or for a hard copy.


Winter feeding is a significant portion of the annual variable costs associated with owning beef cattle. Data from various trials has indicated bermudagrass may be stockpiled during fall and grazed after frost to reduce winter feeding input costs compared with traditional hay-only feeding programs. The addition of annual ryegrass may further reduce winter feeding costs. Pasturing beef cows on stockpiled bermudagrass has not been well investigated, but the strategy may significantly reduce winter feeding costs. There are approximately 3.4 million head of cows in eastern Texas where bermudagrass is the dominant forage grass. These cows represent 63% of the total cow herd in Texas, thus savings realized using stockpiled bermudagrass and ryegrass could amount to several hundred million dollars. These savings could have an economic impact in excess of $1 billion on the state’s economy.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of this study were to: 1) Compare the feasibility of using stockpiled bermudagrass and annual ryegrass for wintering beef cows in East Texas as evidenced by animal performance, and 2) Compare the economics of using stockpiled bermudagrass and annual ryegrass for wintering beef cows in East Texas to traditional hay feeding programs.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jerry Atkinson
  • Jason Cleere
  • Gerald Evers
  • Dean Hopkins
  • Doug McKinney


Materials and methods:

A producer site was chosen in Panola County, Texas where ‘Coastal’ bermudagrass was the predominant forage base. Bermudagrass pastures were grazed to a stubble height of 7.6 cm and fertilized with 56 kg N ha-1 in late August or early September and deferred from grazing to accumulate forage for late fall and winter grazing. Cattle were sorted and placed into one of two treatment groups, either stockpiled bermudagrass + ryegrass (BR) or hay-only feeding (HY). Brahman x Hereford (n = 20) and Angus x Brahman x Hereford (n = 2) cows were utilized in the BR group. An additional group of Brahman x Hereford (n = 9) and Angus x Brahman x Hereford (n = 1) cows was utilized as the HY group. Fertilized pastures were deferred from grazing until early December when cattle in the BR group began grazing stockpiled bermudagrass, while the HY group began receiving hay. Cattle in the BR group remained on stockpiled bermudagrass until there was little forage remaining. They were then fed limited amounts of hay until ryegrass pastures were ready to be grazed. Grazing initiation of ryegrass began in late February or early March.

Stockpiled bermudagrass samples for initial herbage mass and nutritive value were obtain at grazing initiation and every 28-30 days until BR cattle were moved to ryegrass pastures. Ryegrass pastures were also sampled for initial herbage mass at grazing initiation and nutritive value every 30 days until grazing termination in the spring. Cattle Body Condition Scores (BCS) were obtained at stockpiled bermudagrass grazing initiation for both treatment groups and every 30 days thereafter through May to the nearest 0.10 by one individual.

ANOVA was utilized for statistical comparison of Body Condition Scores and GLM was used to evaluate forage dry matter standing crop and nutritive value at grazing initiation.

Research results and discussion:

Initial bermudagrass forage dry matter (DM) quantities differed among years, with YR 1 having the highest level of herbage mass at grazing initiation (Table 1). Crude protein of the initial herbage mass did not differ among years, but ADF levels did. Crude protein levels of the bermudagrass, which was sampled as late as February 1 in YR 2, never averaged lower than 10.3%. This level of CP is adequate for the dry, pregnant cow.

Initial annual ryegrass forage DM likewise differed among years with YR 3 producing the highest initial level of forage (Table 2). Crude protein and ADF differed among years for ryegrass forage, but the level of nutritive value exceeded the nutrient requirements of any grazing animal.

Table 1. Year effect on standing forage dry matter (DM) and nutritive value at grazing initiation for ‘Coastal’ bermudagrass.
Year DM at Initiation CP ADF
1 8201 b 11.2 a 32.6 a
2 2977 a 10.4 a 36.2 ab
3 4580 a 9.2 a 39.6 b
4 3480 a 11.6 a 38.2 b
Values in a column with similar subscripts are not different at the P<0.05 level of significance.

Table 1. Year effect on standing forage dry matter (DM) and nutritive value at grazing initiation for annual ryegrass.
Year DM at Initiation CP ADF
1 2105 bc 21.7 ab 15.3 a
2 1020 a 26.9 c 25.3 bc
3 2611 c 19.8 a 26.3 cd
4 1952 ab 25.3 bc 22.2 b
Values in a column with similar subscripts are not different at the P<0.05 level of significance.

Brahman-cross cows (n=72) from a commercial cow-calf operation in Carthage, TX were utilized for the 4-year study (2003-2007, Table 3).
Table 3. Number of cattle by year assigned to the HY and BR groups.
2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07
HY a 14 10 9 10
BR b 17 22 18 18
a Traditional hay system
b Stockpiled bermudagrass + ryegrass pastures

Body Condition Scores (BCS; 1 = Thin, 9 = Obese)), measured to 0.10, were obtained every 30 days for the duration of the trial (December thru May) by one individual. No differences (P > 0.05) in BCS were apparent between the groups for each month BCS were evaluated with the exception of the fourth period of the third year (Figure 1). The HY cattle had higher BCS than the BR during this period (6.2 vs. 5.5; P < 0.05; Table 4). During the four-year study, average BCS for both the BR and HY cattle remained above 5.0 during the trial. Thus, there appeared to be no adverse effects on cattle grazing the stockpiled bermudagrass + annual ryegrass compared with cattle that were fed hay.

Table 4. Body Condition Scores by year and treatment.
YR 1 BR a 5.0 5.1 5.1 5.0 5.2 5.3
HY b 5.3 5.4 5.4 5.5 5.5 5.8
YR 2 BR 5.6 5.7 5.3 5.5 5.6 5.9
HY 5.9 5.9 5.6 5.7 5.5 5.8
YR 3 BR 6.3 6.1 6.0 5.5c 5.8 6.1
HY 6.0 6.2 6.3 6.2d 6.2 6.2
YR 4 BR 5.8 5.6 5.8 n/a 5.8 n/a
HY 5.9 6.0 6.0 n/a 6.2 n/a
a Stockpiled bermudagrass + ryegrass pastures
b Traditional hay system
c, d P < 0.05

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The project protocol for reducing the amount of hay fed when using stockpiled bermudagrass and annual ryegrass has been shared at extension educational events with approximately 5,500 individuals. One extension fact sheet has been developed and made available to the general public via the internet. A slide set detailing the protocol has also been developed for use in educational programs by county extension agents.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

A winter feeding program for beef cattle using stockpiled bermudagrass and ryegrass has the potential to reduce winter feeding costs when compared with traditional hay-only feeding practices. Due to environmental fluctuations, some years are more conducive to the practice. Due to the uncertainties associated with precipitation availability, an adequate supply of hay should be on hand for emergency feeding situations.
More information is required regarding the potential for using stockpiled bermudagrass in lieu of hay and we plan to continue monitoring the current strategy. Additional information is also needed regarding the use of stockpiling other warm-season perennial grasses.

Economic Analysis

Economic analyses indicated that in each of the four years of the project, the stockpiled bermudagrass/annual ryegrass program cost less than the more traditional hay-only feeding program. In YR 1 the savings per cow was $61.07; in YR 2 the savings per cow was $57.93; in YR 3 the savings per cow was $78.26; and in YR 4 the savings per cow was $14.37. The average savings per cow for the bermudagrass/annual ryegrass program compared with the hay-only feeding program was $52.91. Thus, the program has the potential to save beef cattle producers in the eastern half of Texas approximately $180 million dollars annually.

Farmer Adoption

Farmer adoption of the trial alternative to hay-only feeding programs has been slow. Responses to questionnaires, however, indicate that approximately 5% of educational program audiences have adopted or plan to adopt the alternative to hay-only feeding programs. If so, this could save millions of dollars in the winter feeding of beef cattle.


Areas needing additional study

Additional studies need to be conducted using other warm-season perennial grass forages instead of bermudagrass. These species could include bahiagrass, kleingrass, and dallisgrass. Cool-season annual legumes need to be evaluated instead of annual ryegrass for their contribution to the cost savings of using pasture forages rather than hay in beef cattle winter feeding programs.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.