Meet Taylor Grafton, Ranch Manager for the Bar K Ranch in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. In this 8:02 video, he gives us the ins and outs of swath grazing. This is a technique of mowing pastures into swaths as a winter feed source for cattle or other livestock.
The first thing to keep in mind is that creating swaths for swath grazing is different than swaths intended for baling or silage. To “set the table” for winter grazing, the cows need to be able to find the swaths easily, especially in deep snow. Taylor’s goal is to create swaths that are tall enough that when it snows, the cattle can see little sprigs sticking up here and there.
Single or double swaths?
Because of his concerns about snow, Taylor general double swaths pastures. This reduces the workload for cows digging through snow and expending energy to find their food. He’s found that with single swaths under snow, cattle will skip every other one, or only dig out the easy ones and then complain. When he makes less work for them, they do better through the winter.
On the other hand, too much double swathing can reduce manure distribution and increase waste. That can be offset by recording the locations in the pasture and then starting them at different location the next year.
What’s a good forage for swathing?
The Bar K Ranch has experimented with oats and barley, finding that oats planted alone at 120 pounds per acre works best and a mix of the two at 110 pounds per acre reduces feed sorting and increases palatability. They’ve also learned a little about cattle preferences. If they’re offered swaths of oats and barley or triticale alone, they’ll eat all the oats and then complain. And when told, “Eat it because there’s nothing else,” the cattle go on strike and lose weight. But if their only choice is Triticale, they’re perfectly happy to eat it.
Check out the video for more excellent tips on swath grazing:
Is swathing a possibility where you live?
This is not a technique that works everywhere. Check out this article by Jim Gerrish to find out if you’re place is a good candidate for swath grazing and why it works some places and not others.