Winter Grazing in the Northeast

2012 Annual Report for FNE11-728

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $10,322.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Ridge Shinn
Out of the Woods Farm

Winter Grazing in the Northeast


Winter Grazing in the Northeast-2012

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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objectives 2012

Forage sampling will continue through the winter of 2012/2013 to be able to compare any differences year-to-year. Anecdotal observations of the 2012/2013 non growing season will be noted as well.

Evaluation of the two groups of cattle, the ones eating stored feed and the ones eating stockpiled feed will include body condition score and weight gain or loss.

Further sampling of stored feeds from various sources and an analysis of price per pound of dry matter will be added to the results obtained in 2011/2012. These results will be presented in an excel spread sheet with feed values as well as percentage of dry matter calculated by dollars.


Accomplishments 2012

Forage analysis results from the 2011/2012 non-growing season are being collated and analyzed. Each paddock will have an excel spread sheet showing each paddock over time and change in the forage test over that time period. First glance results show not much difference between the samples through the season. We will use two consultants to read and review the results and offer insights into the data.
The cattle did very well on the stockpiled forage according to anecdotal comments by our local veterinarian. Generally the cattle came through the 2011/2012 winter in excellent body condition score. I have attached a photo that shows the cattle and grass in the end of December 2012 and in February 2012. see below.

Other accomplishments and milestones for 2012 include two presentations to grass farmers that included discussion of the 2011/2012 findings in this winter grazing trial.

We hosted a workshop at the Morss Farm in Hardwick that was sponsored by NOFA MA and the East Quabbin Land Trust. The workshop was from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on Saturday May 12, 2012. The title of the workshop was Save the Planet; Eat More Grass-fed beef. The workshop was held at the EQLT headquarters in Hardwick, MA and included power point presentations, a grass-fed burger lunch and then a tour of the farm and cattle. One of the topics covered was the economics of grazing and the cost savings from extending the grazing season and lowering or eliminating the cost of stored feeds.

The other presentation was part of the annual NOFA conference which took place August 10-12, 2012 in Amherst, MA. The workshop was on Saturday at 1:00 and the workshop description was:

112) Grass-fed Beef: Genetics, and Grazing Season Extension All Levels
Campus Center 905-09
Ridge Shinn: Founder of Hardwick Beef, a 100% grass-fed-finish beef company and Rotokawa Cattle Co, breeder of Devon cattle.

Success in raising cattle on grass-only diet starts with the correct type of cattle. Managing cattle as they graze for high density impact benefits soil flora and fauna. Planned grazing to stockpile feed to extend the grazing season is critical to economic success in 100% grass-fed and finished beef production. Again in this workshop we discussed the results of the 2011/2012 winter grazing trial and apprised attendees of the economic benefits of extending the grazing season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Impacts and Contributions and Outcomes-2012

The financial facts continue to argue strongly for stockpiled pasture versus stored feeds.

At the going rate of $50 per bale in this area, the cost of providing the daily dry matter needs of a bovine with a non-growing season pasture system are staggering.

Balage is a popular feed for cattle in this area since it allows producers to cut and store feed earlier in the growing season since the grass is baled and wrapped when it is quite wet. This allows “haying” before there is sufficient warm weather and day length to dry hay in the field. Wrapped bales also eliminate the need for a barn or storage facility for the feed since the plastic wrapped bales can sit outside with no loss of feed. The quality of the resulting fermented grass is quite good and the cattle eat it readily.
The financial challenge is that these bales weigh almost exactly 1000 pounds, but actually only contain 39 to 42% dry matter. Since the dry matter is what cattle eat, the calculations on cost need to be based on dry matter not gross weight. Typical calculations for feed intake for a bovine are .025% or .03% of body weight. For ease of calculation, we will use the Animal Unit calculation which is 1000 pounds for a typical mature bovine.

A typical cow (1000#) will consume therefore 25 to 30 pounds of dry matter per day. It is important to calculate the cost per # of dry matter for any feedstuff. Baleage is fairly easy to calculate whereas to value of pasture is harder to measure accurately.
A 1000# bale that is 40% dry matter delivers 400# of dry matter. Cost of a bale is typically $50 to $55 per bale, so therefore the cost of each pound of dry matter is $.125. A 1000# cow needs approximately 30# of dry matter per day; therefore feeding baleage for the 180 day non-growing season will cost $.125 per pound times 30# or $3.75 per day times 180 days for a total of $675.00 for the non-growing season.

Pasture rent/lease in this area costs $25/acre. An acre of land will conservatively generate 150# of dry matter per acre inch. This is a low estimate and assumes a fairly sparse sward. Assuming a stockpiled sward of 6” (our average was 6 to 14 inches in the winter of 2011/2012), this would generate 900# of dry matter per acre (6 inches times 150 pounds per acre inch). Therefore, one cow could be fed on this acre for thirty days if she ate 30# of dry matter per day (900# divided by 30# per day equals 30 days). The cost per pound would be 900# divided by the lease amount $25 and therefore the cost per pound would be $.027. The cost per day based on a $25 per acre lease, with the cow consuming 30 pounds per day, would be $.81 and therefore the cost for the non-growing season would be $145.80.
To look at this another way, a farmer could afford to pay more than $100/acre to lease pasture land to graze in the non-growing season and still spend less than he/she would buying hay. 900# dry matter per acre divided by 30#/A.U./day equals 30 days of grazing. At $100 per acre lease, each pound of dry matter would cost $.111 per pound; therefore 30# times $.111 equals $3.33 per day times the 180 days of the non-growing season for a total cost of $599.40.

Analysis of forage samples for the 2011/2012 winter and the 2012/2013 winter results will be tabulated for the final report.


Stephen Hebert
Technical Advisor
Univ. Mass.
112 Stockbridge Hall
Amherst, MA 01003
Office Phone: 4135452890