I often talk about taking inventory of winter feedstuff. I’m primarily measuring dry matter, e.g. hay, pasture, stockpile, crop residue, and grazeable annuals still left. Fall rains certainly helped to green things up and provide some new growth, but that won’t last much longer and real growth is about done and dormancy of perennials is not far off. Three or four nights in a row in the 20’s is usually enough to stop and/or kill top growth and force dormancy. If the weather stays cold or at least cool, plants will remain dormant until starting to grow again in the spring. Please note; as long as that plant is still growing at all, it’s not dormant.
Compare the amount of dry matter you will need for the livestock with how much you have and absolutely allow for waste. How hay is stored and fed affects how much is actually consumed. Hay stored outside and fed free choice can easily waste up to 45 percent of the offered amount. The more waste, the more you need to have on hand. Once you know about how much dry matter you are going to need to get through the winter and an idea on how much you have available to feed, if you are a little short on forages, you can add some supplements such as corn gluten, soybean hulls, etc. into your feeding plan. In fact, you may want to add supplements anyway if hay quality is somewhat lacking, or if more energy is needed. We used 3 percent for the intake estimate which is actually a little high, but if we have a wet, cold winter, energy needs to keep warm will increase and any growing animals will also have higher needs. It’s better to overestimate than to be short. Cold, wet, and especially muddy conditions will increase energy requirements. If you are still short on feed, then you may want to purchase some hay or consider reducing numbers some.
Purchased feeds, whether hay, silage, or supplements, are all direct costs against the animal operation which increases the per-animal cost. Before you commit to any input costs, you probably need to look at alternatives or the other side of the scale. Is it more cost effective to reduce animal numbers or to buy feed where short? Are there animals that are hard keepers that will require more feed to maintain? Are there animals that have not kept up with the remaining animal production model?
Evaluate Your Herd to Make Sure You’re Feeding Animals You Want to Feed
One last note on stockpiled forages. Back fencing is generally highly recommended as you graze across a field to keep the animals from continuing to go back and eat new regrowth. I usually base this on the quality of the stockpile. Older stockpile, or stockpile over 90 days old, is less likely to be overgrazed. I would certainly keep an eye on the field and if you see much grazing of regrowth or too much soil disturbance, especially if you are seeing any bare soil at all, back fence. Once forages go completely dormant, grazing will have less impact on next spring’s growth, but grazing it too short will still have a negative impact on runoff, infiltration, and the possibility of weeds the next season.
I will end this issue with a few personal thoughts about Thanksgiving. Many families have a tradition of everyone noting something that they are thankful for prior to the bountiful feast they are about to partake. Tis the season, so, I’m thankful for fall rains and the forage and crops we have, even after dry weather. I’m thankful for growing up in the era where working hard was respected and expected, when families gathered at the table for meals, and ate from the garden more than a box.; when watching a black and white TV was something special for a few quality shows; when homes were rarely locked, you knew all your neighbors, and you waited until the party line was open to make a call; when life at least seemed simpler, slower, and less stressful.
Keep on grazing!