Winter Feeding Options From A Pasture Perspective

As we approach the winter feeding season it is an ideal time to be thinking about next year's pasture season. Even though the ground is frozen and covered with snow there are things that you can do over the winter to improve pasture growth in the coming year.

The first step is to evaluate the condition of your pastures as the 2003 grazing season draws to a close. Are there improvements and changes that you would like to make for the 2004 grazing season?

How you organize and manage your livestock during the winter feeding period can have a big impact on next year's pasture.

Let's take a look at some possible options to consider. Starting with the conditions of your pastures, is there a pasture that needs extra fertility to encourage grass growth? Feeding hay on this pasture field over the winter or part of the winter is a way to add this fertility. By moving the feeding site across the field you will increase the soil fertility of the field because of the manure that is deposited around the feeding area and any hay that is wasted. I have been in a number of pasture fields that received this type of treatment in the previous year or two. It is amazing how the grass thickens up from the increased nutrients and the grass seeds that are in the hay that was fed.

The idea is to always put the hay-bale on fresh ground. If you are using a bale feeder then it will be necessary to move the feeder before each filling.

With a feeder wagon, pull it to a new area every couple of days. A method that is used by some producers is to place the bales across the field and then use an electric wire to give livestock a few bales at a time. This has the advantage of placing all the bales at once, but the disadvantage of having to move an electric fence every few days while the livestock are in the field.

You will be amazed at the impact these practices will have on improving grass production in the following years.

Cattle eating hay spread in a row in a pasture

Do you have the opportunity to use any crop residue for winter forage? If you have access to grain cornfields they can provide feed for several months during the winter. Cows can winter quite successfully on corn stalks. They will glean any grain that has been missed by the combine and the leaves and stalks provide reasonable feed value. An electric wire will allow you to control the area that is grazed and make for an easy feeding system for part of the winter. Cows can graze through fluffy snow that is 8-12 inches deep.

The third option to consider is stockpile grazing. Stockpile grazing refers to grazing the late summer/fall growth in a field after the growing season ends. Cattle and sheep can successfully graze through several inches of fluffy snow. Select fields with firm soil conditions and a good accumulation of forage growth. Animals should be given access to only part of the pasture area at a time so that they consume most of the available forage rather than picking out only the best. There are several good articles on the OMAFRA Web site relating to stockpile grazing; they can be found on the Forages and Pasture page at:

Fields that are stockpile grazed will be slightly slower to become productive in the spring. The savings gained by not having to harvest and store the forage will more than offset this loss of early spring growth.

There are a number of options that may fit your livestock operation that will help keep costs down and can be used to improve the productivity of your pastures. Consider your needs and opportunities and choose the ones that will work for you.

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