Winter grazing may be right for you

The lack of adequate rainfall in our area this summer and fall left many producers with less forage than they would like, but that doesn’t mean they are all feeding hay yet.

If you do not have forage left for livestock to graze at this time of year you may want to reconsider some of your production practices.

Rotationally grazed livestock make better utilization of available forage and waste less so grazing longer becomes possible.

Forage grazed this time of year is generally high quality and assists in put weight on cows.

Low cost

This is a low cost way to help cows achieve a minimum body condition score of five, that we like to see before calving time, before cold wet weather arrives.

This has been a great year to graze hay fields. While the dry weather has caused many problems, it has also allowed producers to let cows graze meadows with no tracking or damage to the plant roots whatsoever.

Some producers who do not like to graze hay fields might say this is not a normal year so you shouldn’t use this year’s grazing to determine where you would want to graze in the future.

Flexible

This may be true to some degree, but being flexible and using the resources you have is part of the art of rotational grazing.

Planning ahead is definitely something rotational grazers must do, but the best laid plans do not always work if Mother Nature does not provide the rain at the correct time.

Remaining flexible provides opportunities that may be taken advantage of when and if the timing is right. The wet weather we had this spring set hay production back for many farmers.

Did you make any second cutting hay in late July, August or early September this year? The cows would have taken care of some of this work for you if you would let them.

Maybe you could have fenced some of the area you made second cutting hay on and let the livestock do the work.

While those hay acres were being grazed, grass in your permanent pastures would have been growing and could be used now and next month to extend your grazing season.

Cows can do the work

Letting cows do more of the work, while you manage when and where they work, is a simple way to reduce the overall cost of your feed. Operating hay making equipment is not cheap.

The University of Minnesota developed a fuel cost estimator which calculates cost per hour to run various size tractors depending on fuel costs.

In 2007, diesel cost $2.30 per gallon, but farm delivered diesel in 2008 was more than $4.30 per gallon. So, it cost $11.28 per hour to operate a 60-horsepower tractor and a 105-horsepower tractor cost $19.96 per hour to run this summer.

The price of “cow labor” did not go up nearly as much as fuel did this year. Does this sound like a plan you might be interested in for next year?

Maybe lack of fence or water in some areas is holding you back from utilizing certain areas for pasture. If so, check with your local NRCS conservationist about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Funding

Funding may be available to help you get these areas ready for grazing.

It doesn’t take much work to stretch a few strands of high tensile wire or use step-in posts, poly wire and an electric fencer to enclose an area.

Sign-up deadline for next year’s projects is quickly approaching, so contact them soon and maybe your livestock will be able to graze less expensive, standing forage into the winter next year.

About the Author

The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Monroe County, Ohio. More Stories by Mark Landefeld

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