Frank J. Buchman

Cowboy • Horseman • Writer

Extended Grazing Options Important To Consider This Winter

High feed costs coupled with high fuel costs make extended grazing options important to consider, said Denise Schwab, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension beef specialist.

Many cattlemen claim winter grazing isn’t an option, but with a little planning now extending grazing a month or more can be done anywhere.

Stockpiling pastures is one option, provided there are adequate pasture acres to set aside from August first and graze after a killing freeze. Fescue is the best stockpile option for cool seasons since it tends to stand upright after a freeze.

Other cool season grasses should be grazed soon after a freeze since they don’t maintain their upright stance well. Most producers don’t have extra pasture, but hay fields can be an option too.

With the high price of fuel, consider letting the last cutting of hay grow and graze it in the fall. Alfalfa hay should be grazed with seven-to-ten-days after a killing frost to ensure that the risk of bloat potential subsides, but leaf loss doesn’t impact quality.

Summer annuals like sudangrass or millets stockpile well and maintain their upright stance following a killing freeze. Again, allow it to grow from August until freeze for adequate forage.

Sudangrass does have the potential for prussic acid poisoning so stay off it from the first frost until about a week after a full killing freeze for three or more hours.

For best use of the forage, strip graze with electric fence and move the fence every couple of days.

Swath grazing sudangrass works well when the second cutting of sudangrass was stockpiled, mowed, and windrowed about a week prior to late December grazing, and provided about 115 cow grazing days per acre.

Cows stayed on the swaths through mid-February with no negative consequences from snow or ice.

Strip grazing the swaths resulted in 70 percent use of the forage available so very little residue was left in the field for the next crop year and no additional tillage was needed to remove the residue.

Seed winter annuals or cover crops for winter and early spring grazing. For maximum forage growth, drill winter annuals following corn silage or early soybean harvest.

Oats and triticale result in the most fall grazing growth while winter cereal rye and triticale provide the most growth and earliest available spring grazing.

Grazing standing corn is an option, although more difficult to justify with high grain prices. Some grain needs to be harvested to set up the strip fencing and reduce the total grain left in the field to get a better ratio of grain to forage. This must be strip grazed.

Bale grazing is a method of winter grazing where bales are distributed throughout a field and temporary fencing is used to allocate adequate forage for a day or two. Cows spread manure across the field instead of in one location, and the need to start a tractor daily is reduced.

Cornstalk grazing has been a major feed source for early winter feed. The nutrition in stalks is highest in the ears, leaves, and husks, but once they are consumed or deteriorated by weather, the feed value drops rapidly.

In continuously grazed corn fields, cows will select the ears, leaves, and husks quickly, so any type of strip or rotational grazing increases the grazing days from corn fields.

For larger herds, consider putting all cattle in one group, start grazing in the first fields harvested or the farthest from home, and move cows to a new field when the leaves and husks are consumed.

For smaller herds, consider strip grazing with electric fences and sizing strips, so cows move every week or two to a new area.

Cornstalk swath grazing isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those willing to try something “outside the box” this might be an option for a few acres close to the winter-feeding area.

Shut off the chaff spreader on the combine to create a swath of leaves and husks following grain harvest, then strip graze those in January so they can be supplemented with additional feed if needed.

For every week cows are grazed offsets $13 per cow in feed at $100 per ton hay plus the price of diesel used to deliver that hay. For many operations, that’s about a 2 percent reduction in total cow costs for every week grazing is extended.


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