Lee Rinehart

New member
MCM writes:
I really want my animals to be grazing as mush as possible in the winter. The hay producers all around me use Grazon, which essentially destroys the animal manure as a fertilizer for my garden. I want to keep grazon hay off of my farm, but it is nearly impossible to find unsprayed hay in my area. Also, my farm is extremely hilly, so plowing or discing is not an option. I hope to drastically reduce or eliminate hay. If you have a few moments, I would really appreciate the chance to get your input.

After getting some details of her farm (sheep, cattle, and ponies totaling about 11 AUs, I wrote down my thoughts. Any other thought folks might have on this thread, please reply!

Sounds like you are doing a good job of managing the summer fields. The diversity is great, and many of those plants are palatable and nutritious at some point of their life cycle.

Looking at the animals you have now, comes to approx. 11 animal units (based on a 1000-pound cow). This means your demand is roughly 350-400 pounds of dry matter forage per day based on 11 AUs. If you yield 2000 pounds of forage (a total guess here and low-balling it maybe) per grazing period and only take half for grazing, this means you could keep your animals on your paddocks for 2 to 3 days easy before needing to move them. Is this what you see happening? If you are on longer you likely have a greater yield than I estimated. Given this it seems you have plenty to take on a few more and you’ll maybe need to adjust some when the lamb crop comes. That will increase the AUs to about 15. As you are aware, grazing is about observing and adapting. And, the winter options (mentioned below) will greatly extend your grazing season.

Just be sure to (1) ensure your paddock grazing period is relatively short and then move to another paddock. Grazed plants begin to regrow after about 3 days. (2) Ensure you don’t graze more than 60% of standing forage to allow for leaf area and soil cover. (3) Ensure adequate rest for plants to fully recover before grazing again. This is elongation and boot stage for grasses, as indicators. This can be 30 days for bermudagrass with adequate moisture and 40 + for bunchgrasses. More if it doesn’t rain.

For winter grazing, you have a couple of options. One is stockpiling. This means letting a portion of your summer forage mature in the field and grazing it during the dormant season, usually up and into January in many places. You can use electric polywire to section off the field and move it forward throughout the season as the animals graze (see Paddock Design, Fencing, Water Systems, and Livestock Movement Strategies for Multi-Paddock Grazing | ATTRA | Sustainable Agriculture Project (ncat.org)). If you have tall fescue, this is a great way to graze it without worrying about endophyte. Just let it grow and graze it in the winter when it will not infect livestock.

See the following resources:

Episode 261. Summer Grazing for Winter Stockpile | ATTRA | Sustainable Agriculture Project (ncat.org) This podcast discusses how to manage pastures in the summer to take advantage of stockpile for winter grazing.
Regenerative Grazing: Learning from Nature, Stockpiled Grass | ATTRA | Sustainable Agriculture Project (ncat.org) In Montana, but the principles are universal.
Advanced Grazing Webinar, Session 3 – Animals | ATTRA | Sustainable Agriculture Project (ncat.org)
Episode 79. Feeding Ruminants in the Winter | ATTRA | Sustainable Agriculture Project (ncat.org)

Another method is using cool season annuals. Set aside at least one paddock and try an experiment. Graze forage low and overseed in September. Annual ryegrass is prolific and can be overseeded (with a broadcast seeder) in fall, but you need to get seed to soil contact by dragging with a fence gate or pipes behind tractor or 4-wheeler. Drilling isn’t necessary with annual ryegrass. Plant 25 lb/ac annual ryegrass and 3-5 lb/ac white clover. Allow growth to 4 inches before grazing in late fall/early winter, maintain at least a 2 and a half to 3-inch stubble height post grazing. The RG will take off in the early spring, so increase grazing pressure in early spring to keep RG low and allow warm season perennials to emerge when the soil warms. RG will set seed and may carry over into the next year. Other cool season annuals, small grains, have larger seeds and should be drilled at least an inch and a half deep.

See the following resource:

Annual Ryegrass - A Double-edged Sword (noble.org)

These two methods, stockpiling and overseeding annuals, has been known to greatly reduce winter hay feeding. They also do not require much equipment at all, and are appropriate for your hilly fields where you may not be able to use a seed drill or planter.

For information on stocking rates, see Pasture, Rangeland, and Adaptive Grazing | ATTRA | Sustainable Agriculture Project (ncat.org).

More podcasts, publications, and videos on grazing management at Adaptive Grazing – You Can Do It | ATTRA | Sustainable Agriculture Project (ncat.org). See especially the work by Allen Williams.

So, those are my initial thoughts. Please do let me know what else you are thinking about, and if any of these ideas may work for you. We can discuss further.
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