Planning your winter feeding strategy


If allocating pasture is one of your biggest challenges in the summer as a grazier, then allocating stockpiled forages and stored feed in the fall and winter can really be a challenge.

Feed supply. If you have not already done so, now is the time to take an inventory of your available feed supply for the next several months.

* What is available in the field, in the barn or to be purchased?

* What is the feed value, nutritionally of each?

* What is the cost of feeding it vs. selling it or buying something else?

* What does each animal need at various points through the feeding season?

* Is the available feed in a stable form throughout the season or will it deteriorate quickly as we go through bad weather?

Feeding areas. Another consideration that needs to come into this planning process is where will the animals be fed?

* Can we move the feed around so the animals will spread their own manure, while building up the less-fertile fields?

* Are the winter feeding areas located where they will not cause an erosion or runoff problem?

* What will the area look like to your nonfarm neighbors?

* Where do we have a dependable water supply during the coldest days?

* Can we set out round bales in areas where they can be utilized without starting the tractor to move them on the muddiest days?

* Have we planned for a clean, dry field at the time for the animals to freshen?

The list of questions goes on and on but the time we spend answering them is often after the fact.

Plans. Planning ahead and discussing your options and plans with others involved in your operation could potentially pay bigger dividends than anything else you do in preparing for winter.

Just as you wouldn’t give your livestock access to all of your stored feed at one time, you shouldn’t allow them access to all of your stockpiled feed at one time.

The utilization rate is directly affected by the amount of forage/feed that the animals have access to.

Percents. Utilization of available forage less than 100 percent may seem like a poor use of forage in comparison to feeding stored forages, until you realize that harvesting and storage losses can range from 20 percent to 40 percent.

With a rotation of one day in a given area, the utilization rate can reach 80 percent.

A two- to three-day rotation can reach 75 percent.

With animals having access to six or more days of available forage at a given time, the utilization rate drops to 60 percent or less.

Extra feed’s worth. What is 20 percent extra feed worth to you?

Do the few minutes it takes to move temporary electric fence add up to a good deal if it means 20 percent more feed is being utilized rather than wasted?

A study that I read last winter quoted the figure of $600 per hour as the return on the labor for moving the fence. Each situation is different but it is something to think about.

The standing stockpiled grasses will often retain 12 percent to 14 percent crude protein well into January and sometimes longer depending on the weather.

Quality? Do you know the quality of the hay you made this year?

If not I would strongly suggest pulling a forage sample so that you can plan your feeding program around what you actually have and not what you hope you have.

If animal nutrition requirements are lower right now than they will be later in the year, consider limiting the amount of fresh forage they can get right now and start feeding some of your lower quality stored feed, in the pasture as you rotate the animals.

By adding some feed to the stockpiled fields you may increase the days of grazing while using some of the lower quality hay at a time when the animal requirements are not as high.

Balances. When you run out of stockpiled forage then you can balance the remaining ration based on what you have left.

This will often mean adding a high-energy feed to the ration.

There is no point in buying high-priced protein if you have adequate protein in your forages.

Dividends. This is where your forage samples can really pay big dividends.

Knowing what you have will save money or increase efficiency in what you need to add. Keep in mind that some forages stockpile better than others.

Plan to graze your fields that contain the most legumes near the time that a killing frost will shut them down.

Fields. Legumes will not hold their quality or quantity nearly as long after a killing frost as our grass plants will.

Bluegrass and orchard grass fields should be the next priority for grazing after the weather turns cold.

Fescue on the other hand will hold its quality late into the winter and may even be considered a better feed in the winter due to the lower affects from the endophyte during the middle of winter grazing.

The cost for feeding livestock during the winter can range from a few cents per day to well over a dollar per day.

Your decisions and actions now will determine which end of that spectrum you will be on.

(The author is a grazing lands conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.)


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