At the end of his SARE-funded project looking at the possibility and profitability of winter grazing in the Northeast, farmer Ridge Shinn concluded that a farmer could afford to pay $100 per acre to lease pasture/hay land to graze during the winter and still spend less than the $500 dollars per acre it would cost to feed hay.
For the trial, Shinn quit mowing and grazing paddocks at mid-summer in order to stockpile enough forage for the winter season. From November 1 to February 21 his cattle grazed these paddocks. Quantity and quality of the stockpiled forage and body condition of the cattle were monitored and then compared to the quality of forage and body condition of animals fed balage and hay. Cattle body condition was comparable (6.63 for grazing cattle and 7 for balage-fed). Though the stockpiled forage quality declined over the course of the trial, at the end of the trial in February, it was still as good as or better than the balage and hay.
When Shinn began adding up the feed costs here’s what he found:
Group 1 included 5 cows and 3 calves. They were fed fifty-three, 1,000 pound bales with about 50% dry matter. At a cost of $50 per bale, feeding costs were $2.93 per head per day.
Group 2 (the Stockpile group) was made up of 15 cows and 12 calves and they ate about 30 pounds of dry matter per day, just like the animals being fed. They grazed on 21.7 acres for 113 days. By applying the feed cost from Group 1 to this group, Shinn came up with total savings by stockpile feeding of $8,939.43.
Of course both groups required some labor inputs. The cows being fed balage needed bales moved into hay rings, and the stockpile grazers required a daily fence move. One of the concerns was whether snow would cause problems for the stockpile grazers. The winter was warmer than normal in 2011, but there were several deep snows. One in October of 2011 dropped 10-12 inches which the cattle grazed right through. The cold weather and frozen ground prevented any damage from the herd as it moved from paddock to paddock.
The Financials of All This
Based on his trials, Shinn looked at the cost of feeding, the cost of grazing and how much a farmer might save by leasing land to graze instead of buying hay bales or balage. Here’s how it looks with costs from his area. You’ll need to adjust the prices to fit with your neck of the woods and figure for the number of animals you have to see how the math comes out for you.
That’s one picture of the cost of feed for the winter. Shinn goes on to break it down into a cost per pound of dry matter so that we can better compare the costs associated with feeding and with stockpiling.
Now let’s see how that compares to renting pasture. Again, these figures are for Shinn’s area in the northeast. Plug in the right numbers for your area and forage growth rate.
If Shinn were to lease winter pasture at his estimate of $25 per acre, he would save about $530 per cow in feed costs. Cheap feed always means more money in the bank.
When Shinn asked, farmers in his area told him they get about 10 bales to the acre and it cost them about $40 per bale to put up balage when they included all the costs like machine purchase, repair, depreciation and labor. This led him to his final conclusion on the cost of stockpiling vs feeding. Here it is:
You Can Lease Land for Winter Grazing and STILL Make Money
It’s an interesting way to look at things. Will it work for you?
Want to see the whole report? Here you go!