John Hauer P.Ag.
Regional Forage Specialist
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Year Round Grazing! Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? This is especially true this year when the winter feeding season started early and the weather has been colder than average.
The first “staying snow” came, for most parts of Saskatchewan, on October 23, 2012, a full three weeks sooner than normal. In addition, Environment Canada reported that the daily average temperatures for Saskatoon were two degrees colder than normal in November and four degrees colder in December. Thus many cattle herds are eating through the feed stacks.
As producers you are likely tired of hauling feed to the cow herd. Also due to the drought and dry conditions in the United States and southern Ontario prices for both hay and feed grain have doubled or tripled in the last three months.
Surveys of cow/calf operations in Saskatchewan and Alberta have shown that annual feed costs make up 60 to 70 per cent of the total cost to produce a calf, the product that generates revenue for most producers. Of this feed cost two-thirds is from the winter feeding period and one-third from the summer pasture period. Feeding the cow over the winter is expensive. Any way to lengthen the grazing season and shorten the feeding season saves money.
There are many ways to lengthen the grazing season. Some may work for your operation and some may not. Swath grazing is a common example. Annual cereals are grown then swathed and left to be fed to the cattle in late fall and winter. Barley, oats, wheat and triticale are all commonly used, and each crop has its pros and cons. Proso and Golden German Millet can also be used as swath grazing. Winter cereals like fall rye, winter wheat, winter triticale and annual ryegrass can be grown then grazed in late fall as stock-piled forage. This forage can be grazed again as early spring grazing.
Many producers have used standing corn to extend their grazing period. Corn is expensive to grow due to its high seed costs and high fertilizer requirements. However, with good growing conditions it can be very productive. Corn is very sensitive to both heat and moisture received during the summer. One must match the number of heat units received in an area to an appropriate heat unit rated corn variety.
Grazing crop residue to extend the grazing season is often overlooked. Straw and chaff from harvested crops is collected into windrows or piles then fed. This chaff contains cracked and shrivelled grain, volunteer grain and weed seeds which can all be quite nutritious. The cost to collect this is nominal since the harvested grain pays the cost of growing the crop. This can be a cost effective way to remove excess crop material from a field and feed a cow for part of the winter.
Leaving an accumulation of native or tame grass or legume material is called stockpiling. This stockpiled forage can be grazed in late fall to extend the grazing season.
More information on extending the grazing season can be found in a booklet called “Year Round Grazing 365 Days” that has been published by the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta. Grant Lastiwka, with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, is one of the co-authors of this booklet. Lastiwka will be the keynote speaker at a series of three one-day forage management workshops called “The Cutting Edge in Forage Management”. These workshops will be held in North Battleford on March 12, in Moose Jaw on March 13, and in Yorkton on March 14.
For more information on extending your grazing season or on the Cutting Edge in Forage Management Workshop contact John Hauer, Regional Forage Specialist, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture at the Kindersley Regional Office at 306-463-5507 or go to our website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca.