If you’re going to be feeding your livestock this winter, bale grazing could be right for you. It can save you time and money and even improve your pastures. Here are some tips from the Manitoba Grazing Council to help you get started and make it work for you.
How Many Bales Should You Put Out?
This math really isn’t any different than what you use when you’re figuring how much hay to purchase.
The amount of dry matter feed needed will be 2.5 to 3% of each cow’s body weight. Don’t forget to factor in waste. In the Manitoba publication they suggest 20% as a good rule of thumb for figuring waste. Others suggest numbers as high as 50%. Check with an expert in your area to give you an idea what to expect. To figure how many additional bales you’ll need due to waste, multiply the number of bales times your estimated waste percentage. That will give you the additional bales needed.
Here’s an example. You have 200 cows. Each weighs 1400 pounds. They need 2.7% pf their body weight in feed and you’ll be feeding for 92 days. The bales weigh 1,200 pounds with 85% dry matter.
Where Should You Bale Feed?
Seeded perennial fields with at least one “rhizomatous” grass species are best for bale grazing. Rhizomatous grasses (smooth bromegrass, quack grass, Kentucky bluegrass) spread through both seeds and roots (rhizomes) and are best adapted for growing up through the waste that will be left behind from bale grazing. Bunch grasses have greater difficulty doing this. If your pasture is dominated by species like crested wheatgrass, meadow bromegrass) you might find dead spots and weed growth where the bales were placed. Avoid using native prairie pastures for bale grazing. These species don’t respond as well to high nutrient loads associated with bale grazing. You might simply set yourself up for a weed or tame species invasion.
When you’re choosing your bale grazing site, think about where water will flow during spring melt. Since bale grazing concentrates manure in the feeding area, water can carry those nutrients to new locations. If you’re bale grazing on top of coarse textured soils, water can carry excess nutrients into ground water. Sloping pastures may mean runoff into nearby streams or ponds. In Manitoba, there are laws prohibiting pollution of groundwater and waterways, and there is growing concern about this in many places that could lead to regulations. It pays to consider your down stream neighbors.
How Should You Place Your Bales?
• Place bales with sisal twine on their sides, because it will rot.
• Place bales with plastic twine on their ends, so the twine can be removed in the fall before feeding.
• Place bales on a grid of 40 ft centers (Leaving 30 to 35 feet (9 to 10 metres) between the bales, to allow uniform manure nutrient coverage).
• In Canada, the bale grazing area must be 328 feet (100 metres) from a surface watercourse, sinkhole, spring or well. This is to protect waterways from nutrient bearing runoff.
How to Use Fencing to Feed Bales
An electrified wire fence with a very good ground is your best friend when bale grazing. Wire should be placed between the rows to ease the animals’ movement for the next feeding. If the ground is too hard to pound in fence posts or fiberglass rods, simply stick them into the bales.
Snow is a good insulator and one wire won’t be effective in keeping animals inside the fence, making a high output energizer and wire combination a better choice than string or tape. In areas with lots of snow an extra lead wire for the fencing or a double wire (hot wire on top and second wire connected to a good ground source) are your best bet.
Meet Your Animals’ Nutritional Needs
If your bales have varying feed qualities, the Manitoba experts suggest making sure that there are 2 days of good feed followed by 2 days of lower quality feed. This ensures that all stock get enough good food to eat to maintain through the winter.
In colder weather they recommend adjusting the feeding rotation length down a day (e.g. If your rotation is three days, reduce it down to two days) to increase the amount of feed to compensate for colder temperatures. Good clean water (or good clean snow if you’re using that as a watering source) are also important to maintaining herd health through the winter.
Pay attention to animal condition. Skinny cows may need some extra feed to get through the winter. Keeping track of which animals do well and which ones don’t will also help you decide which ones need to leave the herd.
We have articles in the works talking about the benefits of bale grazing from the standpoint of improving soil fertility and information on how to use bales in other ways to feed your livestock and your soil. In the meantime, if you have questions or tips for your fellow On Pasture readers, do share them below!