Forages and snow: Principles of strip grazingcan still apply this time of year


While cold weather appears to have arrived, some producers may still have some standing forage due to the relatively mild winter thus far.

Here are some suggestions for strip grazing.

Don’t make waste. Hay making systems can experience dry matter losses of 27 percent to more than 50 percent.

Field stockpiling forages for fall and winter grazing also includes some wasted forage due to trampling and soiling losses.

The percentage of waste of field stockpiled forage can be as high as 70 percent when cows are given large areas at a time, similar to giving them free access to your whole hay supply.

Waste can be as low as 30 percent when cows are given a three-day supply of forage.

Costs. A “front wire” is the primary out of pocket input cost.

If you are trying to minimize cost, a back wire is not needed since the plants are dormant and will not be making regrowth.

No hay bales. In research at the Missouri Forage Systems Research Center they compared 14-, seven-, and three-day forage allocation strips on stockpiled tall fescue.

Strip grazing on a three-day frequency yielded over 40 percent more grazing days per acre than allocating a 14-day forage supply and produced the same level of animal gain.

This can reduce the amount of mud compared to feeding hay in the same location all winter.

Hay in the field. Controlled grazing is important if hay bales are left in the field.

If livestock have free access to a complete field of round bales, they will waste some of the bales.

Strip-grazing gives about 60 percent more days of pasture compared to where cows have free access to the entire field of round bales and regrowth.

Large round bales can also be placed in a corner or along the edge of a paddock.

Use fence wire. Electric wire can be used do control access to only a few bales at a time.

This may mean placing each bale 20 feet away or more from the neighboring bales.

The potential of trampling the soil in wet, warm weather may result in the loss of production for that section for the upcoming year.

Heavy snow. If emergency feeding is necessary during a heavy snow period, plan to feed the cow on the grazing area and not in a barn. Cattle may learn to graze through heavy snow accumulations.

Ungrazed paddocks should be available when it snows enough to cover the lower heights of plants. Snow will often freeze preventing cattle from utilizing ungrazed, shorter plants.

Cattle can graze through 18-20 inches of fresh snow as long as a good supply of ungrazed forage is available under the snow.

Once the frozen snow melts, animals can be moved back to the unused stockpiled pasture.

Animals can continue to use the existing pasture if the temperature remains below freezing after a snow.

Providing grain or range cubes may be cheaper than providing extra hay.

Basic principles. Basic principles for strip grazing:

1. In the case of non-lactating, gestating beef cows, giving the cow a three- or four-day allocation of grass is the best balance between your labor and forage utilization.

Growing or lactating cattle should be fed (move wire forward) more often.

2. Remove animals that do not adjust to this system. Animals with sore feet or appear thin are culling candidates.

3. Utilize the most perishable forage species first: legumes, orchardgrass, fescue.

4. Select areas to be grazed based upon soil and weather conditions.

Graze wet areas during dry or frozen times. Graze exposed areas during warmer weather. Graze protected areas during severe weather.

5. If grass gets muddy, move to another area until the mud is washed off the stockpiled growth, then move back.

(The author is an Ohio State University Extension beef specialist.)


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