Photo by Chris Penrose.

Still grazing?

By Chris Penrose, Professor and Ag & Natural Resource Educator, Morgan County Extension

I still am but I am not sure how much longer. My goal is to make it well into December then stop feeding most of the cows hay in early March. I started to stockpile some of my fields in August and everything was going great and growing through September. I even tried a technique that has been used on the east coast to lightly graze well stockpiled fields while there is still time for regrowth. The principle behind that is to stimulate new growth on the stockpiled grass that has slowed down. I took the cattle off the field around the first of October assuming another month of growth but guess what? Grass does not grow much when you get no rain. I actually had one of the best forage growing seasons I can recall until October, so I do have plenty of hay. The way things are going, I will likely start feeding hay by the end of November. When you farm, things rarely go as planned.

I do have a nice, stockpiled field on fairly level ground (for Morgan County, Ohio) that I will save until early March and place my spring calving cows there. My goal is to feed no more hay and have a nice, thick sod for the cows to calve on.

At this point, what can we do to help get us through the winter (going to Florida gets more appealing to me every February!)? I think having equipment in good working order is critical, hope is not a good plan. Equipment breaks down at the worse possible moment and have a backup plan in case it does. For example, I was looking at the worn out tread on the front tires of the tractor I feed rounds bales with and ordered new front ones knowing the hill I have to go up to feed hay. Over the years, I don’t know how many times tires have gone flat just after noon on Saturdays!

Plan now on where you feed hay.  I try to consider the ease to get to the feeding site, minimizing damage to the field and the ability to spread the nutrients where they are needed the most. Do you have the ability to set out some round bales while the ground is firm and bring the livestock to the hay at a later date? One of the best systems I have seen was to place round bales at least 20 feet apart, then use electric fence to provide hay as needed.

Match your animals needs to the hay you have. I will start feeding my poorest quality first and keep the best hay back until February when the pregnant cows needs are at the highest and the weather tends to be the worst.

Were there herbicides used on your hay fields? I have a set of round bales from a field that was sprayed with a residual herbicide for spotted knapweed. The restrictions are very specific and I have a field identified where I will feed knowing that I may lose some legumes there (and hopefully some broadleaf weeds).

Do you have enough feed and is the quality adequate? Take inventory and develop a strategy if you may not have enough grass and hay. Hay is typically less expensive now then in February, especially if we have a rough winter. Are there harvested corn fields you can graze or a neighbor’s field where you could set up a temporary fence to graze? Supplementing with some corn can help stretch out hay supplies. When the quality of the hay is not good enough, typically it is more of an energy issue than a protein issue, so again, supplementing with some corn could be an option. If protein is an issue, protein tubs are an option, but be aware of the source of protein: urea based protein tubs are best for high energy diets and not poor quality hay, and not for calves under 120 days old or less than 400 pounds, there could be an ammonia toxicity issue.

The weather has been great the past month for harvesting crops but forage growth has virtually stopped in my part of southeast Ohio. It is unlikely we can do much to grow more but we can plan for when the unexpected happens. My cows are still grazing but it will not be as long as I had hoped, so I am planning on feeding more hay this winter.

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