2 years ago February, my Son In-law and I attended a "Grazing Specific" conference in Albany, NY. Although we were far away from any greening up pastures, it was a mind stimulating 2 day conference that gave us a lot to think about on our 5 hour trip home that should have only taken 3 hours! We were so in depth in conversation that we missed our exit. And when your between Albany & Binghamton, NY there is little to no room for error when looking for an exit. 1 missed exit added 2 hours to our homeward bound trip. Cooperstown, NY however was beautiful that time of the year.
Anyway, I digress. One of the main topics of discussion at the conference and on our lengthy drive home was about "Bale Grazing". Here’s some of what we learned and than went on to implement on our farm in 2011.
Bale grazing cattle during winter will save you time and money. And with proper management, reduce environmental contaminants/run-off. Bale grazing is when you set a large number of round bales out in late fall & winter and regulate the cows’ feed intake using temporary electric fencing. You move cows to a new set of bales in two-to-five-day rotations. To ensure all cows have equal access to the forages.
Selecting suitable sites based on soil and topography will reduce the risk of nutrient loss to the environment from leaching and runoff. Not to mention if you place a round bale on even a gently sloping pasture you can bet your bull will have it down the hill, through the fence and in the creek or swale by morning. Compaction of soil caused by cattle traffic also promotes surface runoff. Pastures with a history of spring-time flooding should be avoided due to nutrient leaching.
Why Bale Graze?
• Your cattle feed themselves
• Tractor wear and tear is reduced as tractor use is concentrated to one period in fall when bales are placed
• Operating/fuel costs are lowered
• Less manure to remove from the barn/yard means reduced diesel or gas consumption
• Less wear and tear on your barn cleaner
• Pasture fertility is improved
• Manure is more evenly spread out and immediately incorporated which increases future forage production
• Residual feed conserves soil moisture
• And most importantly chore time is reduced
Bale grazing will only work with good planning. If your heifers/cows historically need 38 lbs/day of average hay for the first trimester of their pregnancy, they may need 40 lbs/day of better hay in the second. Keep the best hay such as 3rd or 4th cutting and highest feeding rate for the end of winter. For example, if 10 bales are needed to feed a group of cattle for three days, then bales are set in rows 10. Most times bales are placed on their round side, just the same as when they are ejected from the baler. This way, the bales stay relatively intact after the plastic twine is removed.
Using alfalfa/grass hay bales that average 1,300 pounds (lb.), current research is suggesting a maximum density of 25 bales per acre. To obtain this density, place bales in a grid on 40-foot centers. At this rate, an overall average rate of about 75 lb. per acre of plant-available nitrogen will accumulate in the soil profile the following spring. The nutrients will not be evenly distributed, but overall this is considered an environmentally safe and economically optimum rate for nitrogen application.
Location, Location, Location!
• Place bales with sisal twine on their sides, because it will rot.
• Place bales with plastic twine on their ends, REMOVE THE TWINE in the fall before feeding.
• Snow is a good insulator. If there is a lot of snow, a single wire will not produce an effective electrical current to keep the animals inside the fence.
• A high output energizer and wire combination is a better choice than string or tape.
• Fiberglass rods or rebar speared into bales is an easy alternative to drilling or driving posts into the ground.
• Set bale grazing areas to prevent surface runoff into watercourses.
A typical density is placing bales 40 feet apart on a grid, which equates to about 25 bales per acre.
Bale grazing delivers a significant amount of nutrients to the site, especially on the points where the bales are placed. This nutrient supply is released over several years from the organic layer. Seeded perennial forage is generally the best suited vegetation for taking advantage of and utilizing this relatively high level of fertility.