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Is Swath Grazing for You?

By   /  December 5, 2016  /  7 Comments

You may not be swath grazing this year, but as you feed your livestock this winter, consider if this is something to try next year.

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Swath grazing is a useful tool for locking in the quality of pasture much later into the winter for year-around grazing. But it’s not for everyone.

Here is a map of where swath grazing will generally work in the US.

gerrish-swath-grazing-map

As you can see, this mostly covers the arid west. Yes, I think you could swath Spring growth in central California to use in Autumn, but you might need to have it used before the rainy season sets in. For those of you living in wetter areas, swath grazing probably won’t work. That’s because anything left in a windrow is very prone to rotting.

These photos are examples of using swath grazing on perennial pastures in the West.

These cattle are grazing alfalfa swaths at Circle Pi Ranch at Patterson, Idaho on Dec 21.

gerrishcirclpicattleswathgrazing

The cattle really love this stuff on a cold day in December. Cows are all fat and happy.

gerrishfatcattleswathgrazing

We cut the alfalfa-grass crop on September 28. Note how green and leafy it is on December 21.

gerrishdecember28greenswath

This photo was taken February 25 on a ranch near Laramie WY. This was wild flood grass meadow. This ranch had fed no hay in over seven years when picture was taken. Again, note the green color still present in the swath.

gerrishswathgrazing-laramie

The swaths have been grazed in this section on January 8. Not much left behind when the feed is budgeted out on 1 to 3 day strips. This ranch went from feeding hay for five months of the year to feeding no hay.

gerrishgrazed-swaths

Like what you see? Last week’s article on swath grazing gives more on the how-tos.

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About the author

Jim Gerrish is the author of "Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming" and "Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing" and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO's to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

7 Comments

  1. Brett N says:

    Jim, On your US map you have a brown line marking the “greatest opportunity for swath grazing” but inside this line you have a blue line marked “marginal opportunity”. Could you explain this as I live right on this blue line in central South Dakota and have done bale grazing but am very interested in swath grazing. Thanks

    • Jim Gerrish says:

      Hi Brett,

      I did that just to aggravate you….

      The challenge is east of that line fall rains are much more common & the likelihood of temperatures rising well above freezing in late fall & early winter can lead to more deterioration of the windrow than west of that line. In any given year, the wet/dry fall line migrates from east to west & so consistent results are harder to predict in that transition zone.

      Jim

      • Brett N says:

        Jim you are safe. I believe I am a bit west of the blue line. Have you had experience with raking two windrows together. Making a bigger windrow, possibly exposing less hay to the weather. I realize another cost involved. Thanks, Brett

        • Jim Gerrish says:

          Brett,

          The higher the quality of the cut forage, the greater value to raking two or more windrows together. Plain old meadow grass is probably not worth the extra cost of raking. Alfalfa or a cover crop cocktail is generally worth raking.

          The deeper the snow you are likely to experience, the greater the value of raking two or more together. A taller, boxier windrow has greater accessibility in deeper snow.

          Jim

  2. Matt says:

    How can you protect the windrows from hungry dear and elk?

    • Jim Gerrish says:

      Matt,

      That is an ongoing challenge with elk being a much greater challenge than deer. Keeping up human activity from daylight to dark is helpful. Driving or riding through the area after dark & before daylight is even better. If you do that continuously for a couple fo weeks, a lot of time the elk will go look for a more peaceful location.

      Trying to fence them out is either expensive if you start to build permanent fences on your perimeters . It can be done with 3-D electric fences, but those are a little trickier to construct.

      Jim

  3. Curt Gesch says:

    I appreciate the photos and precise focus of your articles.
    Curt Gesch

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