We began using MG way back in the early 90′s during the winter with stockpiled fescue on rented farms. Each year we came to trust more and more what we were doing until we eventually sold all of our hay equipment – one of the best decision we’ve ever made. It was the key to making our farm more profitable.
Learning to work with portable fencing and judging stock densities and forage availability is done most easily in the winter. Grass isn’t growing and a back fence to keep cattle from going back on what they’ve grazed is less important. Water, which is often the toughest challenge in developing grazing plans, is easier because cattle are content to walk farther to drink in the winter allowing the farmer to have fewer freeze proof water points. It’s also easier to measure and calculate grass availability for grass that’s not growing, allowing a new grazier time to develop their “grass eye”.
Our stockpiled winter pastures are dominated by KY31 fescue. It’s one of the best grasses for winter in our area because it maintains it’s green and doesn’t shrink up and go away when it becomes cold. It maintains enough quality to keep a pregnant cow in good shape through the entire winter.
Because we move cattle only once a day our stocking density varies with the density of stockpiled grass available. It usually ranges from 80,000lbs to 150,000lbs per acre, per day.
We often have the cows graze through snow, but not all snow allows grazing. Here in the Ozarks we often get freezing rain and ice pellets before a snow or enough freezing and thawing to make the snow icy and hard. Our stockpile is a precious commodity so we just plan on feeding hay when it’s like that for we find a lot of stockpile is wasted when the snow gets hard. Recently, the snow wasn’t hard but we had temps below zero and winds blowing at 25 miles an hour so we fed hay next to windbreaks. Unfortunately, many of our paddocks are without windbreaks and it wouldn’t be right to not provide the livestock a place to get out of strong cold winds like we were having.
Taking twenty minutes a day to move cows with polywire sure beats driving a tractor and feeding hay. The beauty of winter feeding with stockpile is that it really doesn’t matter how many cows you have- it takes about the same time to move 500 as it does 50.
A good place to start for a producer wanting to reduce or eliminate feeding hay in the winter is Jim Gerrish’s book, “Kick the Hay Habit” available from American Grazing Lands.