Strategies can extend grazing seasons to reduce financial impacts on livestock operations
“Producers can save a significant amount of money using extended grazing strategies,” stated Vern Baron, Agriculture Agri-Food Canada research scientist.
A webinar titled, “Swath and Bale Grazing Strategies” from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), discussed extended grazing methods, including bale and swath grazing during winter.
“Any savings from extended winter grazing is good for the producer,” added John Duynisveld, Agriculture Agri-Food Canada research biologist.
Baron said producers may wonder why they should use extended grazing, and the simple reason is the reduced cost of overwintering cattle.
“The goals of extended grazing are to reduce feeding, hauling, harvesting and manure removal cost,” commented Baron.
He added, over the last 15 years, multiple extended grazing methods have been adopted.
Extended grazing strategies
Swath grazing, bale grazing, stockpile grazing and straw bunching are the main strategies used by producers. A combination of these methods can be used to extend grazing, said Baron.
“Traditional methods for overwintering cows can be very expensive, and some extended grazing methods can reduce daily feeding costs by almost 50 percent,” stated Baron.
Straw bunching offers producers the most savings, followed by swath and stockpile grazing, said Baron, adding, bale grazing offers the least amount of savings but is also the least risky.
Bale grazing reduces risk in extreme weather, like snow, because the bales are easy for cows to find, and they nourish the soil underneath.
“Costs do vary from farm-to-farm and location-to-location, so producers should keep that in mind when looking at the difference in savings between the different strategies,” he stated.
Baron added, extended grazing also reduces fuel and labor costs, which allows producers to keep more cows over the winter.
Feeding system factors
When discussing feeding systems, Baron said, cow, forage and environmental factors need to be evaluated.
“Cow reproductive cycles greatly affect the feeding system because, at different periods of gestation, cows have different feed requirements,” he stated.
In October and November, barely pregnant cows don’t require as much feed, and any extended grazing strategies should be limited to reduce waste forage resources, commented Baron.
From December to February, pregnant cows require more protein and dry matter from feed, so extended feeding strategies are best implemented at that time, he added.
“Reproductive factors need to be considered so producers end up with healthy calves in the spring,” Baron said.
Duynisveld described six types of cattle best suited for winter grazing, from best to least, listing fat dry cows, late lactating bred cows, bred heifers, yearlings, early lactation cows and weaning calves.
“All cattle need to go into the winter with good body condition, but weaned calves need additional supplementation. Producers should also be aware of energy needs to avoid sacrificing reproductive efficiency,” said Duynisveld.
Environmental factors majorly affect the energy needs of cattle. Cattle typically have a critical temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit, he commented.
“A critical temperature of 14 degrees means the cow requires more energy to function at temperatures under 14 degrees,” explained Duynisveld.
Rain and wind decrease critical temperature, and cows with more body condition can withstand critical temperature decreases better than cattle with low body condition, he added.
“Producers can cope with environmental factors by increasing body condition going into fall and utilizing extended grazing methods in sheltered areas, like tree lines, man-made shelters or near barns,” stated Duynisveld.
“Extended grazing can feed cows through most of the winter and reduce feeding, hauling, harvesting and manure removal costs,” stated Baron, but to further improve winter feeding, producers can use higher-quality feed and be aware of feed weathering.
He explained using higher-quality feed reduces the requirement for dry matter, on average, over the winter.
“Weathering is the loss of feed quality from harvest to feeding. Forage quality is good at the beginning of winter, but after feed freezes and then thaws, nutrients are lost,” he added.
Duynisveld recommends using bluegrass, timothy and fescues for winter grazing because, according to studies, those grasses hold more total digestible nutrients cows can utilize during winter.
“There is still a lot to be learned about winter grazing,” he added.
“Nothing is done without risk, but there is a good probability of success for producers with extended grazing strategies,” concluded Baron.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org