Extended grazing can reduce feed costs

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 5, 2008
by WLJ
By extending the grazing season into the fall and winter, many producers can reduce their harvested feed costs, said a University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) specialist.
Although winter or dormant season grazing of pasture and feeding of a protein supplement is a common practice, several other strategies can work well for producers in other parts of the state, said Jerry Volesky, range and forage specialist at UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte.
Producers can start now to prepare for extending the season by planting annual forages such as oats and turnips to use later, he said. They can also stockpile perennial grasses.
"We’ve done some research on stockpiling cool season perennial grasses," Volesky said. "We graze those grasses in the spring and early summer, then let them accumulate the rest of the season’s growth for the fall and winter."
Volesky found that even into November and December, the stockpiled forage maintained its nutritional value with protein levels as high as 12 percent. It wasn’t until January and February that crude protein and digestibility decreased significantly.
"But even at the end of February, nutrition was still relatively high and we were meeting the nutritional needs of most grazing animals," Volesky said.
Producers have also used windrow, or swath grazing. It involves swathing forages in late summer or early fall, then leaving the windrows in the field to feed in late fall or winter. That allows the producer to capture the quality of forage at the time of harvest. Grazing the windrow is possible even with snow cover.
That strategy saves money because it eliminates the cost of baling, hauling the bales off the field, and then feeding them. In addition, grazing the hay in the field returns nutrients back to the soil.
There is an outside chance that there will be too much snow to use these feeds, Volesky said. Unless the snow is very deep, though, more than six to eight inches, it won’t matter. Ice is much more of a problem.
Barring unusual weather, then, extending the grazing season can help cattle producers save money and increase their profits. — WLJ