Winter grazing: Cut hay out of budget


COLUMBIA, Mo. – Beef cows will be eating more grass and fewer bales of hay next winter, if Rob Kallenbach, a Missouri extension forage specialist, is successful in his campaign.

Cows eating grass receive higher quality feed, and the payoff will be in the farmer’s pocketbook, said Kallenbach.

“The average beef producer spends $282, out of pocket, for feed,” Kallenbach said.

“That’s not counting the costs of pasture. The single largest cost is hay.”

Hay costs. Feeding hay costs more than twice as much per pound of gain, or any other economic measurement, Kallenbach said.

Putting up hay is far more expensive than most producers realize. It also takes lots of time to harvest and store hay. The time to feed hay is during the winter, of course – the worst weather to be out doing chores.

“I propose that we not feed hay to cattle,” Kallenbach said. “The goal is to graze all year.”

He admits that he is often challenged on that goal.

Winter grazing requires having grass available during about 120 days of winter, when hay is now most frequently fed.

Kallenbach admitted he would be happy if producers would, for starters, just extend their grazing season by another six weeks.

Cutting back. An easy way to cut back on hay feeding is to stockpile fescue in the fall for winter grazing.

Tall fescue makes excellent forage for winter feeding, he said. A waxy outer coating on the fescue leaf helps the cool-season grass withstand freezing weather.

A pasture to be stockpiled is grazed short in August and then fertilized ahead of fall rains. Cattle are kept off of the growing pasture until it is needed for winter feed.

To gain maximum benefit from stockpiled fescue, Kallenbach recommends strip grazing.

A portable electric fence, made with a single-strand wire or polytape attached to lightweight posts, is moved every three days to expose fresh grass for the grazing herd.

Strip grazing in the fall is an easy introduction to management-intensive grazing, which can be used throughout the growing season on pastures.

Intensive management. Intensive management can increase forage utilization by at least 50 percent, research shows.

In addition to stockpiling tall fescue, new forage varieties, such as annual ryegrass, can also provide winter grazing. New winter-hardy grass varieties provide more options, as does increased use of cornstalks left in fields after harvest.

Kallenbach wants farmers to look for low-cost alternatives to high-priced hay.

“It is possible to cut losses and increase profits. Some people are already doing it,” he said.


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