More Farmers Are Winter Grazing

This story comes to us from Civil Eats, a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system. In working on this story, reporter Caroline Abels contacted us at On Pasture to find out more about winter grazing and interviewed two On Pasture authors, Troy Bishopp and Jim Gerrish. After an early season snowstorm in November 2014, Troy Bishopp had an epiphany that changed the way he approaches tending cattle. The longtime grass farmer and grazing advocate, who had recently launched a winter grazing experiment on his 100 acres in central New York, watched as the 60 dairy heifers he was contract grazing burrowed their faces into the nearly five inches of snow and tunneled down to chomp on the tall grasses sleeping below. Witnessing the cows employ techniques once used by wild ruminants such as bison, elk, antelope, and bighorn sheep on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountain West, Bishopp realized his hypothesis was correct: he could indeed feed cattle for part of the winter without using hay. “Over the last three or four years, I can safely say it’s become a habit,” Bishopp says—to graze cattle into November, December, and even January on grass grown out and left untouched (or stockpiled) during the summer and early fall. Most years, thanks to stockpiling, Bishopp adds about two months to his grazing season, which usually ends in mid-October w

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2 thoughts on “More Farmers Are Winter Grazing

  1. Thanks for this, Caroline.

    As to the idea of “entire winter” grazing, I just returned from my final hunting trip for the year, where I saw plenty of cows that will spend the rest of the winter “out”. They live in low-moisture, high-elevation country where the snow cover is modest and there is lots of dead, dry grass. They are essentially competing with the elk. The management on this land is extremely non-intensive: small numbers of cows wandering vast tracts of landscape, most of it publicly-owned. Cheap wintering policy, but likely not repeatable for most graziers.

  2. Interesting winter grazing practice applications to say the least! For one Nevada sagebrush steppe-style winter grazing result, see excerpt below from Petersen, et al. Rangeland Ecol Manage 67:78–87 | January 2014 | DOI: 10.2111/REM-D-13-00038.1
    “MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS: Our research and the findings of others suggest that grazing by livestock in fall and winter can be effective, biologically and economically, and can increase grasses and forbs while decreasing sagebrush. In contrast to chemical and mechanical treatments or prescribed fire, integrating livestock grazing into landscapes is a way to fashion systems of management in which locally adapted animals use sagebrush and other shrubs as fall and winter forage to reduce the costs of feeding and to enhance the growth of grasses and forbs during spring and summer.”

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