Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Winter Bale Grazing

I was watching FarmGate the other day (don't laugh at me! nothing was on ...) and they started talking about winter bale grazing.
The fields in June before the animals got here

To summarize, feeding cows in an intense area and then spreading the nutrients out on your fields in the spring only re-captures about 1% of the nitrogen in the grass for the following season. Also you've got a hard-pack of manure that takes a lot of labour/heavy equipment to clean out. Versus feeding the cattle out on the pasture during the winter disperses the nutrients from their waste around the field (so you don't have to use gas/labour to move it) and the field recaptures about 34% of the nitrogen. Making a huge difference in the quality of the grass available to the cattle in the next year.

The suggestion is that you could leave the bales out in the field right where the baler spits them out (provided you had a lot of acreage to work with!) and feed the cattle that way, greatly reducing fuel & labour costs.

So... I'm going to have to adjust my plans a little bit! I was really thinking more about big hooves stomping on the ground, but as I learned it's really only going to be an issue in the spring when it's really wet (plus our fields are really well drained, so it may not be a big issue at all). If we fed the cattle by placing their bales all around the field instead of in just one location we wouldn't have anything to clean up in the spring and the whole field would be fertilized.

There are other issues, such as, that the area under the bales can become snow-packed from high traffic and warm up more slowly in the spring. Also if there is a lot of hay left over it can make it very difficult for the grass to grow; and you can be spreading lots of weed seeds into your field.

Also if we wanted to place all out bales out at the beginning of winter and use electric to keep the animals confined to a few bales at a time, the horses couldn't go out in the field at all from the time we placed them (since cow hay is generally not suitable for horses). Buying and placing the hay now would save us by having the bales delivered all at one time, (that also means paying for an entire season of hay at once) and make it easier to get them out in the field.

Last, but not least, my hay guy has dropped off the face of the earth, so I also have to find more hay first.

Either way I've got some more thinking/planning to do before the snow!

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