For most, feeding hay during the winter months can be challenging. The areas livestock are fed may be determined by ease of access, location to shelter and water, and often in the same places every year.
Small sacrifice areas and heavy use pads both have advantages and disadvantages.
Heavy use pads make it convenient to have a location with a firm base of stone or concrete. Stone based pads require more maintenance than a concrete type, but often are cheaper to construct.
In both cases manure is concentrated to one area that needs to be mechanically moved onto the fields when weather conditions permit.
Sacrifice areas may limit damage to our total pasture acreages, but the damage done to these areas can be significant.
Initial damage is the loss of vegetation which then leads to increased soil compaction reducing forage production for the upcoming year and beyond.
With minimal damage nothing may need to be done. Severe damage will require extra planning and work to establish a good forage stand, preventing increased weed pressure.
Regardless of the winter conditions and feeding area, nutrients from manure are concentrated in these areas increasing chances for runoff.
Managing nutrient loss is not only an environmental concern, but one should consider the economic value of those nutrients.
If the herd is 20 cows, weighing 1,200 pounds, consuming 30 pounds of forage per day, with a 180 day winter feeding period, this would equate to 54 tons of hay needed for the winter feeding season, on a dry matter basis.
Six Legume grass mix forage samples taken in 2016 averaged 12.76 percent protein, 0.26 percent phosphorus, and 1.87 percent potassium per ton of forage.
In this example, the manure from this herd would generate 772 pounds of nitrogen, 638 pounds of phosphorus and 2,434 pounds of potassium. This would be valued at $685 in fertilizer, based on recent prices.
For mature cows, nearly 100 percent of these nutrients would be excreted in urine and feces.
Granted not all of these nutrients would be available for forages and we haven’t accounted for hay that would be wasted.
Research conducted in Canada reported that round bales fed with no feeder would result in 43 percent waste. Unrolling bales on a daily basis reduced waste to 12 percent.
Many studies have been done evaluating ring and cone type feeders and generally reduce wastage to around 5 percent.
During the growing season rotational grazing not only increases forage productivity but also helps in nutrient distribution.
We can take this same concept and apply it during the winter feeding time.
Each operation has different constraints on managing winter feeding areas as already mentioned. I am not suggesting that this can be done the entire winter feeding period.
Changing weather conditions constantly dictate what decisions we make where livestock can be fed.
When you have the opportunity, take advantage of moving feeding areas to pastures that need nutrients the most. This will help improve fertility, letting the livestock do the work for you.