Windrow Grazing Annual Forages in the Fall and Winter to Reduce Harvesting and Feeding Expenses while Improving Nutrient Recycling
In the High Plains Region, 75-80% of annual precipitation comes from April through September. This precipitation seasonality allows forage crops windrowed in early fall to keep in the windrow through the winter with minimal deterioration. Grazing the windrows with cattle has the potential to greatly reduce harvesting and feeding costs when compared to baling and feeding hay.
The cost of harvesting forage as baled hay continues to increase as equipment and fuel prices increase. Windrow grazing significantly reduces equipment and fossil fuels needed to harvest forages for hay since the only mechanical operation involved with harvesting is the swathing of the crop. Harvesting the crop as baled hay includes swathing, baling, hauling bales off the field and hauling the bales to the livestock. It is estimated that windrow grazing saves approximately $25.00-$30.00 per ton on an “as fed” basis when compared to feeding baled hay. Windrow grazing decreases fertilizer needs for subsequent crops by returning organic matter and nutrients to the ground where the crop was grown in the form of urine and manure. These attributes also help to meet the goal of improving environmental quality and the natural resource base on which agriculture depends. Finally, farmers and ranchers using windrow grazing have reported a quality of life improvement by reducing the equipment, labor and time associated with harvesting and feeding hay to livestock.
Currently, very few producers in this area windrow graze annual forages. Most annual forages are harvested as hay. By planting annual forage, windrowing the forage and grazing it through the fall and winter, we hope to learn about the potential of doing this on a large scale. A 13-acre field will be planted to a brown mid rib (BMR) variety of Sudan Grass in the early summer of 2007. The BMR Sudan Grass will be windrowed in early fall and the windrows will be grazed with cattle sometime during the fall and winter. Temporary electric fence will be used to limit cattle access to the windrows. Forage samples will be taken when the crop is cut and at one month intervals throughout the fall and winter until all of the windrowed forage has been utilized. These samples will be analyzed for quality to see how the windrows maintain quality. The costs involved with planting harvesting and feeding the cattle through windrow grazing will be compared to what the costs would have been if the forage would have been baled and fed to the cattle. We will also seek to estimate the amount of loss that occurs by grazing the windrows in the field.
A 13-acre dryland field consisting of sand loam soil was lightly worked with a disc and planted to a brown mid rib (BMR) variety of Sorghum x Sudan on June 24, 2007. The field was lightly worked as the volunteer wheat stubble had been previously grazed and the soil was very rough to take a no-till drill through. Twenty pounds of seed were sown per acre using a disc drill. Soil tests indicated that approximately 25 lbs of nitrogen was available per acre. No additional fertilizer was applied.
Much of the seed sprouted, however the stand was uneven as unusually hot and dry conditions in late June, July and early August prevented much growth from occurring. Approximately two inches of rain were received from mid August through early September. In early September, the BMR Soghum x Sudan was only approximately 24 inches in height. The stand was thin in many places and a decision was made at this time not to cut the forage into windrows, but to leave it standing as cover to catch snow. It is planned at this time that the field will be planted again to a BMR Sorghum x Sudan grass in 2008 and the windrow grazing portion of the project tried again.
Grant funds were used in 2007 to pay for soil tests, purchase BMR Sorghum x Sudan seed and to pay for disking and planting of the BMR Sorghum Sudan. Funds will be used in 2008 to pay for BMR seed, planting of the seed, fertilizer if needed as well as promoting and hosting a field day.
• Sorghum x Sudan is drought tolerant and stayed alive when other summer annual forages would have likely died under the drought conditions which occurred.
• Summer moisture is obviously important for windrow grazing of summer annuals to work.
WORK PLAN FOR 2008
I am planning to purchase a BMR variety of Sorghum x Sudan seed again in the late spring of 2008 to plant in the 13-acre field. The field will be planted after June 15th when night time temperatures are warm enough not to adversely affect Sorghum Sudan growth. Soil tests will be taken again prior to planting and will be analyzed to see what nutrients are available.
I am planning to swath the Sorghum x Sudan in early September and begin grazing the forage in December. A field day will be scheduled in December of 2008 to demonstrate to local producers how windrow grazing a BMR variety of Sorghum x Sudan works.
Because we chose to leave the Sorghum x Sudan crop standing due to the stand being thin and minimal growth, we didn’t hold a field day in 2007. I am planning to have a field day in 2008 assuming that enough growth occurs to windrow the crop and graze it with cattle.