Swath Grazing in 2014?
Basically, swath or "windrow grazing" is like making hay, but skipping the last step. This might not work for everyone, but it has worked for some. You mow and rake your hay like you normally would, but you get to skip the baling and putting away step of the process. You might not remember just a few months ago when it was 95* with 90% humidity and no one was around to help you throw square bales into the mow, but when those temperatures and humidity levels return, the information I’m about to share with you might seem more advantageous.
Forages that can be used
Both perennial and annual forages can be used for "windrow" grazing. Hay fields can be grazed in the spring, allowed to grow all season and than mowed and raked or "swathed" in the early fall. Grazing pastures early in the spring will delay forage maturity but will allow for higher quality forage to be harvested when swathed in late summer or fall. Warm-season annual forages such as sorghum-sudangrass or just plain sudangrass, and cool-season annuals such as oats have also been used for windrow grazing. When annual forages are used, time planting so forages reach the "boot" stage of maturity just prior to the average date of first frost. In Northeast PA that could be as early as Labor day.
Fall and Winter Grazing
Mow forages into narrow/high swaths in early fall when nights are cool to prevent mold growth. If windrows are to be grazed through the winter, make windrows high and dense to reduce weathering loss. It may be helpful to rake two windrows together if forage yields are less than 1 ½ tons per acre. Rake windrows immediately after mowing so they "rope" together. Your standard "old Fashion" wheel rake does this quite nicely. Tight, heavy, dense windrows will seal down and be less susceptible to being picked up and scattered by the wind. When possible, swath the forages so windrows lay parallel to prevailing winds. Raising your mowers cutter bar to cut forage at higher stubble heights also will reduce losses from hay rotting in the windrows, as stubble will hold the windrows up and keep hay from lying directly on the ground. This is also a good method for mowing when making dry hay, so that the air can get under your mowed hay to aid in drying and there is still some growth left to your forages so they will grow back quicker after you bale your hay.
Control Grazing with Temporary Fence
Using temporary electric fence will help to easily utilize your windrowed forages, minimize waste and make it easier for your wife to move the cattle when your not around. She will thank you. Allow your cattle up to one week’s worth of forages to reduce waste due to trampling and cattle bedding on the windrows. Make adjustments depending on body condition of your cattle and weather conditions. A single-strand electric fence is often adequate to separate cattle from grazed and ungrazed windrows. A double-strand electric fence with one ground and one hot wire may be needed when the soil is dry or snow cover is present. Especially if you have young stock and run all your animals together in one herd. There are alot of different types of temporary electric fence posts, wire, tools, and equipment available to simplify the task of building and moving temporary electric fence. I can tell you from experience that you DO NOT want to use "tape" style fence with a plug-in style fencer. It will fry the small strands of wire that run through the tape. If your using a plug-in style fencer use 12ga. high tensile fence. If you are far and away from the availability of an electric outlet a solar style fencer will work, and you can use tape fence with a solar charger, but you will need to be more vigilant about weeds on your wires with a solar charger. And plan on replacing the solar charger every year if you use it year-round. It’s almost the same price to replace the whole charger as it is to find and replace just the battery.
Expect some Waste
The amount of forage that your cattle will waste when grazing windrows will vary, depending on the weather, quality of forage available, and how frequently and tightly restricted the forages/windrows are rationed out. The amount of forage wasted with windrow grazing can range from less than 5 percent to more than 30 percent. This compares to dry matter hay loss estimates ranging from 15 percent to more than 40 percent, with baling and feeding dependent upon storage and feeding methods. When feeding dry hay it’s always best to keep it up off the ground, whether in a headgate feeder of a round bale feeder. If utilizing a round bale feeder without a bottom/floor, simply place two pallets in the feeder before placing the bale in it. The amount of acceptable waste with windrow grazing must be balanced with the labor required to move fence and the performance goals for the animals grazing. Mature cows or cattle with lower nutrient requirements can be used to "clean up" windrows when excessive forage waste is left behind by grazing calves or stocker cattle.