When folks start investigating methods of shortening the winter hay feeding periods on their farms and ranches, the term “winter stockpiling” is usually found somewhere in the discussion. The term “winter stockpiling” means that you are allowing your grass to grow on your farm in the fall growing season without being eaten off by your livestock. This fall grown grass (stockpile) is reserved for winter grazing by animals in the dormant non-growing season. The only equipment required to harvest this fall grown forage in the coming winter is the four-legged kind along with some electric fence. The animals harvest it right off the stem where it was grown. Grazing winter-stockpiled fescue ranks as one of the highest money savers there is on our livestock farms.
Once you have succeeded in growing all this fall growth of grass this is your standing hay for the coming winter. Our winter stocking rate is based on how much stockpiled fescue we have available across the various farms. Cows really enjoy grazing every day they possibly can. They would much rather be peacefully grazing across the pasture in the winter, rather than standing in deep mud around a bale ring fighting off other cows.
Here’s why grazing stockpiled fescue (or any stockpile) is better than bale feeding:
Cows Don’t Enjoy Bale Rings
Have you ever watched cows around a bale ring? It is a very competitive stressful scene. There are always dominant cows whipping up on the less dominant cows, driving them off their feed that they desperately need to maintain daily performance. The stress of getting whipped every time they try to get a mouthful of hay out of the bale ring really effects the less dominant cows. Your animal performance on the less dominant cows plummets with each day of cold weather they are exposed to. (If you knew that every time you opened the refrigerator door that you were going to get whipped, you might think twice about going to the refrigerator to grab a bite to eat as well.)
Fertility and Forage Suffers
All the fertilizer benefits from the bale-ring-fed hay are being deposited around the bale ring where the ground has been trampled into a mud slurry. Once the sod around the bale ring is pugged with deep holes through the sod, this area is guaranteed to grow a good healthy crop of weeds for years to come and it years to heal before it will ever grow grass again. Not only is it an eyesore on your pasture, it is no longer a productive area on the farm. If you have to feed hay to your animals, unroll it across the pasture to spread out the fertility.
Cows Can Feed Themselves
One conventional mindset that is tough to get changed is that when winter arrives, animals cannot feed themselves on our pastures anymore. People think, “You must feed hay or your animals will not survive.” My question to that line of thinking is, “What did animals eat for centuries before we started making and feeding them hay?” It’s pretty obvious that they survived without hay and they reproduced too.
I’ve learned that when winter arrives animals are more than happy to graze if they are moved to fresh grass every day or so. The more often I move them, the better they perform and the more content they are. Our mob of cows depends on us moving them daily, they are unhappy campers if they don’t get their daily fresh paddock of stockpiled grass.
By focusing on growing grass on our farm with full recovery periods between grazing, we can let the animals harvest the grass where it is grown. The manure pats and urine patches that are deposited while grazing are dropped where they belong – on our pastures where they will grow more future grass.
We have learned to trust our grass that is standing in our pastures to feed our animals. It does not need to be rolled up in a bale to be good feed. Many times rolling up hay into bales makes it worse feed. Unless you get perfect drying conditions to cure the forage, you end up with moldy hay that is great to fill a ditch with. Animals would much rather harvest fresh grass on the stem.
Here’s a 55 second video from Greg showing his cattle grazing stockpile. He’s passionate about this and covers it in his grazing school every May.
One of my paddocks has lots of threeawn so I’ve stuck most of my cattle in there this winter and have put the hay to ’em to help out this paddock. The dung beetles have been doing a tremendous job with all the manure pats so I’m looking forward to improved fertility. Even when the temperature has slipped into the teens the dung beetles have been doing a very complete job. It has been real dry, though. That seems to always be the most important factor for them.
Another thing though; I left a gate open to another paddock one day and all the cattle were up there grazing even after I put out fresh hay. It was all dormant warm season native grass (side oats grama and little bluestem, mostly). They were much more inclined to graze that old dormant grass than the good sudan hay I put out. Go figure.
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