Friday, December 1, 2023
HomeNotes From KathyReader's Question: Supplementing Energy Through the Winter

Reader’s Question: Supplementing Energy Through the Winter

What are you using to supplement energy for your herd through the winter?

A reader in SE Minnesota is dealing with temperatures that jump from below zero to high 30s and back, with alternating rain, ice, snow, and wind. She’s trying to figure out how to get enough energy into their herd of grass-fed/grass-finished beef, and would like to hear what others are doing.

Currently they are feeding a grass/alfalfa mix with about 90-100 RFQ (Relative Forage Quality). This year, she started feeding heifers and a few lactating cows with September calves, and the bulls and stockers about a lb each of dried molasses and beet pulp mixed 1:1, with a little apple cider vinegar mixed. There’s also a big lick tub of Crystalyx Brigade designed for stress, and salt and kelp available in the bunk.
She says the cows are holding their weight, but she’s a big believer in feeding the heck out of them starting in November so they are fat going into winter. They’ll roll out bales in March and April when there’s less snow on the ground, and the herd will get that along with any hay that was buried in January and February. During the cows’ third trimester she gives them quality but not so much quantity
What do you think? What do you use to provide energy for a grass-fed herd? Write in and tell us, or leave your answer in the comments below.
Do you have a question you’d like the On Pasture Community to weigh in on? Drop us an email and we’ll get it out there.
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Rachel Gilker
Rachel Gilker
Rachel's interest in sustainable agriculture and grazing has deep roots in the soil. She's been following that passion around the world, working on an ancient Nabatean farm in the Negev, and with farmers in West Africa's Niger. After returning to the US, Rachel received her M.S. and Ph.D. in agronomy and soil science from the University of Maryland. For her doctoral research, Rachel spent 3 years working with Maryland dairy farmers using management intensive grazing. She then began her work with grass farmers, a source of joy and a journey of discovery.


  1. I look forward to reading your On Pasture.

    After reading Winter Feeding, I would like to tell you how I have been doing it in Vermont at 1700 ft for 40 plus years, with most winters having snow on the ground from mid November till April and with temps and weather about the same as in your winter feed write up. Paddock time with hay only is generally until mid May. I use about 50 lbs of grain per year as candy to get their attention when needed. They get trace mineral salt blocks and fresh spring water (in the photo of the tub) which runs all winter. Notice that the tub only has room for one at a time to drink which works well with the hay close by. They take turns leaving the hay and do not bunch up at the tub. Their primary feed in winter is free choice mixed grass nonwrapped dry hay it is there for them 24/7 all winter.

    I like the thought that when a steak is eaten it is 99% grass, hay (which is grass) and water plus some air. The bovine that the farm or ranch selects or breeds must have the genes and gut for grass fed & grass finished performance to do well on mixed grass hay all winter. In mid May I put them in smaller paddocks with hay to get there gut accustom to green grass, then increase the paddocks in size and rotate them all summer June through mid November. I included pictures to show you.
    Cows grazing Hay at feeder
    Cows at feede from back
    Cows on pasture
    water trough

  2. I’d suggest looking at ensiled summer annual forages as an energy source. I prefer BMR sudangrass baleage as a winter energy source for grassfed animals. Locating a custom operator with a bale wrapper is a good way to try it out before buying any extra equipment.

    Sudangrass has a higher leaf to stem ratio compared to sudex or forage sorghum, and the BMR varieties are highly productive and very digestible. It is a great transition crop if a pasture or hayfield needs to be torn up and replanted, it can be used to help smother canada thistle or it can be planted in a beat-up wintering area. Planting in a wintering area helps re-distribute some of the available nutrients to other parts of the farm (assuming the baleage is fed elsewhere). The quantity of feed produced per acre is incredible.

    After taking a cut for silage, the regrowth can be grazed once it reaches a minimum of 14-18″. Don’t allow animals to back graze regrowth as prussic acid a concern. Also, don’t graze within 2 weeks of a frost for the same reason.

    Generally it is best to plant after June 1st, then cut it when it is between waist and shoulder height. I prefer to lightly disc once or twice to smooth the seedbed and then drill at about 20lbs seed/acre. Test for nitrates if drought stressed or if planted in an area with a lot of available N. I like to turn the material with a tedder the day after cutting, then rake and bale on the second day after cutting. Wrap the bales as quickly as possible. It is not necessary to use a conditioner/crimper, it is best not to crimp the material or drydown will be slowed.

    If feeding to cows, be sure to provide lots of feed space or the dominant cows will eat nothing else and the smaller and weaker cows will eat only the poor hay. I like to feed this as a supplement to cows in the winter, not a primary feed or they will get too fat. For grassfed steers this can be a finishing ration when fed free choice along with high quality alfalfa/grass baleage.

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