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Feed Hay to Grow Grass

Authors as Published

Tom Stanley, Extension Agent, Farm Business Management, Northern District,  (

Most people with grazing livestock are dealing with drought-stressed pastures and are facing some decisions regarding hay supplies for the winter ahead.

For some, the best solution may be found in confining livestock to an appropriately sized lot or paddock that can be easily reseeded and providing a least cost combination of hay and supplemental feed while the pastures are allowed to recover.

This may seem counter intuitive, especially if we enjoy some rain during August that spurs some re-growth in our pastures and hayfields. Here are some reasons why “feeding hay to grow grass” may be a good strategy for someone with grazing animals:

  1. Removing animals from the pasture protect sensitive growth points of grasses and legumes that are close to the ground or just below the surface thus protecting the existing forage stand and insuring more rapid recovery once the rains do come.
  2. Fescue is the predominant forage species in our pastures. Fescue retains much of its forage quality well into the winter. Fescue that is allowed to grow from now until after the first hard freeze provides a stockpile of grazeable forage into the winter months and reduces the amount of hay that has to be fed in muddy winter conditions.
  3. For part-time farmers, it is often easier to feed hay now than in December and January when available daylight is limited and stockpiled fescue could be utilized. 

How do we pay for hay? Selling calves early is the solution beef producers often look to when dry weather demands above normal hay purchases. This year may be different in that cull cow values are exceptionally high right now. For some cattlemen, now may be the time to sort through the cow herd and cull the older cows and those that are open that should be pregnant. 

Of course, the correct strategy for meeting the nutritional needs of animals depends on the particular farm situation and the resources available. If you would like to construct a customized partial budget to determine what pasture and feeding management strategy makes the most economic sense for your situation, feel free contact your region’s Farm Management Agent through your local Extension Office.


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.


August 11, 2010