Where has the sunshine gone? As we approach the short cold days of winter, many of us are already dealing with less-than-ideal soil conditions.
While many experienced a very dry summer, others had more than ample spring rains followed by a very wet autumn. Good soil conditions for stockpiled grazing is proving to be a challenge this year. The areas that had little moisture this summer may have little forage to stockpile for deferred grazing. The areas that have dealt with continuing rainfall have many soils that are saturated and thus the soils cannot provide a solid base for grazing.
Utilization of heavy use feeding areas when the soil conditions are wet may be a needed practice even though there is still forage to be grazed.
By allowing the forages to keep growing while the soil conditions are so wet that the fields will not stand up to livestock foot traffic, we are protecting the forage base for the next growing season and hopefully providing a clean solid field that can be grazed later this winter or perhaps next spring, rather than turning all of our fields into a giant mud bog that we will have to deal with for months to come.
For the most part, the forage quality is not deteriorating in the growing plants during this time of year nearly as much as the damage we will cause to the field by trampling the plants while the soils are saturated.
Even though pasture growth has slowed down and may be stopped for all practical purposes, as long as we are not getting freezing and thawing weather, the quality is pretty much holding consistent.
This may be a good time to stop and count our blessings that we have not faced the extreme weather conditions of some of our neighboring states. While we complain about it being too wet or too dry, for the most part the majority of farmers reading this article were able to plant and harvest the majority of your normal crops this year. Some folks that planted late had surprisingly good yields this fall.
Some changes in management that were made due to early weather conditions turned out to increase the gains put on locally raised livestock this year.
Change, no matter how uncomfortable, sometimes causes us to look at our operation and discover that there are more ways to do things than we believed possible. By thinking in a “conservation frame of mind,” we may discover that changing when and where we feed our livestock during wet or cold times of the year may lead to a more economical long-term production practice.
Protecting the fields
The fields that we protect now may pay great dividends later this winter by providing us with several days of “cheap, high quality feed” that the livestock can harvest on their own when the thermometer drops below freezing, while we watch from the kitchen window rather than struggling to start a temper mental tractor to haul feed while the cold wind blows.
Recently harvested crop fields also provide many days of good grazing opportunity when the fields are dry or frozen. Take advantage of these opportunities whenever possible. Set up temporary electric fence while the fields are soft and wet to be utilized when it dries up or freezes. Take time to review what feed you have available.
Review which water systems have adequate water now and which ones will be able to supply the livestock needs in the middle of the coldest part of the winter. If there is an opportunity to adjust your grazing management or feeding areas to take advantage of the resources that you have, then planning ahead may save you money and aggravation later in the season.
Plan for 2 to 3 percent of your livestock body weight in available forage per day, plus fresh water for the weather conditions.
When you stop to make these calculations, it may quickly become apparent that some adjustments are needed in our feeding system. Perhaps some supplement may be needed to increase the quality of feed when utilizing some late cut, first cutting hay that got rained on a couple of times before it was baled. Perhaps it is just a matter of deciding when to feed certain bales based on the livestock needs during different parts of the winter.
Consider when the animals need the highest quality of feed. Consider whether you can get to it when you need it or whether you will have already fed it during the early part of winter because it was the hay stored closest to the barn door.
Freedom to choose
Hopefully, after reviewing your available resources and options, you will decide that there are truly many blessings to be thankful for this holiday season despite the challenges we face on a daily basis.
Among our blessings we have the freedom to chose to continue farming and to continue enjoying our way of life, a generally favorable climate, and abundant resources to manage along with a source of fresh, safe drinking water for ourselves and our livestock. And we must not forget that we are part of the system that supplies the safest, must affordable and abundant food supply in the world.