Winter Grazing in the Northeast
This project was designed to build on previous trials to extend the grazing season. Because of the high demand for 100% grass-fed beef from the urban markets in the Northeast, lowering the number of the high- cost feed days in the non-growing season will save some of the costs of hay and thereby increase net profitability for grass-fed and grass-finished beef producers here.
An area of ten acres was picked for the winter trial and five cows with calves will be selected to graze this area. The key elements of the projects are 1) a grazing plan that initiates stockpiling with adequate time for growth before the end of the traditional grazing season, 2) analysis of the grass for quantity and quality at the end of the growing season, 3) monitoring the quantity and quality through the non-growing season, 4) applying the cattle to the land systematically through the non-growing season, 5) monitoring the weather during the trial, and 6) evaluating the cows and calves that are eating the stockpiled forages in comparison to cows and calves that are eating stored feeds.
Our trial and measurements will provide data and a model for other farmers to use as a basis for reducing the number of hay-feeding days in the non-growing season.
The proposed methods of measuring:
Forage samples will be submitted to the Cornell University testing service. These tests will be taken at the initiation of the stockpile process (approximately July 15) and then at the end of the growing season (October 1). Samples from the same paddock will be analyzed before moving the grazing cows into the paddock on November 1, December 1,January 1, February 1, and March 1.
Anecdotal notes will be recorded at the time of testing that will include any observations about weather, water, snow cover, ice etc.
Photographs of the paddock that is being tested will be made at the time of testing the fresh paddock. Photographs of the paddocks that have been recently grazed will also be taken.
Finally the actual paddocks used will be recorded on the grazing plan. The proposed grazing will be marked with a colored dot and then the actual grazing days will be recorded with a colored-in box for both the trial and control paddocks.
Additionally, we will sample hay and haylage from various vendors in the Northeast—as many as six samples. These bales will be weighed and sampled with a forage test shortly after they are made and purchased, and then will be tested periodically through the non-growing season to see if the feed values change during this time period. The cost of these bales will be recorded as well, including the transport cost. If possible we will attempt to obtain forage samples from the field before it is cut and baled. Hay from one of these vendors will be fed to the control group of cattle. This set of data will help us evaluate the value of the winter grazed forage in dollars and quality of feed available to the bovine.
The grazing areas for the winter grazing study were stockpiled in July 2011. This means the acreage involved in the study was not mowed or grazed after July 2011.
Areas adjacent to the stockpiled area were grazed starting in October 2011. Then stockpile was grazed through the end of the year. It was a mild year for snow although there was a freak October snow storm that blanketed this area. (power was out for a week and there fore no electric fences. The cattle dug through the snow for feed and it was about 10″ deep but then melted away fairly quickly. The rest of the fall was cold but not much snow. The cattle did so well on the stockpile, I moved most of the cattle into the group grazing stockpile. Their weight and body condition were excellent. Our vet pregnancy checked the herd near the end of the year and commented on the excellent condition. I showed him the stockpiled areas where they had been feeding and he was impressed.
Test results of forage have been obtained and tested but there is no analysis ready to share at this point.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
locally dry round bales or wrapped round bales cost about $50.00 per bale. This herd will eat 2 bales a day. Considering only the months of Oct, Nov and Dec, the value of the stockpile could be calculated to be worth $100 per day times 90 days or $9000.00. This does not include any extra money for diesel and depreciation on a tractor to deliver the bales to the cows. My partner in PA had his part of the herd inside a building and incurred the cost of bedding and labor to spread it as well as the cost of hay and feeding it and is looking at purchasing a large manure spreader to move the manures back to the land. Moving the herd with a single electrical wire daily did take time and energy, but did not involve fossil fuel or equipment. The weather was cold enough and land frozen so that there was little disturbance of the soil as the herd moved across the land.
These observations are anecdotal but will be backed up with an analysis of the forage sample data in the next report.
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