Here we are in December and I see livestock in numerous pastures where there is no grass left to eat. Many beef cows are now eating hay as their sole source of forage.
However, I have also observed animals that are still grazing grass standing in pasture fields or meadows.
What differences in farm operations require some producers to feed hay while others still have standing forage to feed their livestock?
Planning. There are many possibilities that could account for the differences, but management practices is the first thing that comes to my mind.
Using planned rotations throughout the spring, summer and fall create higher utilization rates of available forage.
Couple this with more forage produced per acre by stronger healthier plants and you soon see noticeable differences.
Proper planning allows extra forages to be stockpiled. This may extend the use of standing forages into December, January and February.
Stored feed such as baled hay generally costs a producer about three times the amount that equivalent dry matter in stockpiled standing forage costs.
Manure help. Grazing stockpiled forages also helps with manure management.
Strip grazing paddocks promotes uniform distribution of nutrients excreted through livestock waste.
Reducing excess buildup of manure around permanent feeding areas or in barns relieves farm managers of the additional task of hauling and spreading manure.
Quality. OK, this sounds good, but what about the quality of feedstuff left in fields at this time of year?
The last several years the Monroe/Belmont counties grazing group held meetings in December and January to discuss stockpiled forages.
For those meetings, random samples of various standing forages, as well as first-cutting hay samples, were taken just a few days before each meeting.
Laboratory analyses were done to determine nutritional quality.
Almost all results confirmed stockpiled mixed fescue pastures had nutritional quality as good as, or in most cases better than, first-cutting dry hay made by the producer.
Most analysis also showed the stockpiled forages were more than adequate to supply nutritional needs of cows in their middle or last third of pregnancy.
Correct use. Correct use of stockpiled foods may also increase the value of the forage.
As we said, livestock has nutritional needs and these must be met or loss of body condition will result. Excessive weight loss causes a host of production problems.
As the winter feeding season progresses this year, producers should be aware that much of Ohio’s 2004 hay crop was harvested late.
That means nutritional qualities of the feed may not be good.
Wise use of your feeds will be beneficial to your livestock’s performance and mean more dollars in your pocket in the spring.
Knowing the quality value of your forages and using them in the proper manner helps the farm manager maintain adequate nutrition for the livestock without purchasing expensive grain supplements or lick tubs.
Balancing. Feeding hay along with high-quality stockpiled feed is an excellent way to utilize the poorest quality hay products that were harvested during hay season.
Livestock help balance their ration by eating high-quality stockpile with lower quality hay when offered together.
Poly electric fence and step-in posts should be used to limit the amount of hay and stockpile given to animals so waste is minimized.
Strategically placing numerous round bales within a stockpiled paddock when ground conditions are dry or frozen can eliminate the need to start the tractor for extended periods of time.
Not needing to use equipment in muddy conditions or on extremely cold days makes feeding a much more pleasurable chore.
Moving fences. Moving polywire is easy and only takes a few minutes. This is also a great time to monitor the health of your livestock.
Sick or unhealthy animals are often the last or slow to move to new forage when it is provided.
This may let you know about potential problems.
What order? Grass/legume mix stockpiled forages should be used first since they will be the first to lose nutritional qualities.
Fescue/legume mixed paddocks should be used next while areas of pure fescue hold nutritional quality the longest.
If annual crops were planted and stockpiled or corn residue is available, they also need to be worked into the feeding plan.
If conditions become extremely wet, a sacrifice area or feeding pad may be warranted where livestock can be fed for a while.
Preferably this area would be away from any creeks or high runoff areas.
Once the ground is firm enough to support livestock activity again, move them back to the forage and continue with new breaks of feed.
Snow issues. What if it snows? Snow does not cause livestock feeding problems unless it accumulates very deep or becomes hard and crusted with ice.
Livestock will routinely feed through 6 inches to 8 inches of snow.
However, they cannot eat the forage as closely to the ground as when no snow is present, so be sure to offer adequate amounts for needed consumption.
Don’t be overly concerned about uneaten forage in pasture fields during this time. Livestock will go back and harvest what is left after the snow has melted.
We are quickly approaching the time of year when stockpiled forages may be needed.
Are you one who took time to plan for winter feeding using this low-cost method?
For more information about winter grazing and stockpile management to reduce your feed costs, contact your local extension office or Natural Resources Conservation Service grazing specialist.
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent in Monroe County, Ohio. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)