Source: Farm Progress
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to reducing pasture damage from winter feeding.
Each producer should analyze his or her operation to determine if there are small steps that can be taken to reduce damage incurred by winter feeding.
Still, Penn State Cooperative Extension has nine potentially helpful tips for anyone planning to pasture cattle this winter.
1. Create a sacrifice pasture or lot. Designate one area on the farm that has the purpose of being used during undesirable weather conditions. This will save other pastures from getting damaged. Also, feed your stored feedstuffs in these sacrifice areas during late fall, winter and early spring, or until your pastures have acquired enough growth in the spring to be grazed.
2. Split sacrifice area into two or more sections. By splitting an existing area into smaller sections, changes in weather patterns and precipitation can cause less destruction by confining livestock in a “muddy” area and then allowing them to get to a drier area where they weren’t previously after the ground freezes or dries.
3. Target feed to attract livestock. Move hay feeders, mineral feeders or feed bunks to different spots in the sacrifice areas to lure livestock to more unpopular parts. This can help to reduce damage and mud accumulation in the heavily traveled and highly popular areas of the sacrifice lot.
4. Feed hay bales. Rolling out hay can be a unique way to feed livestock while reducing the high-traffic area of a hay feeder. This practice helps with nutrient distribution back to the soil and provides livestock a better chance to select the highest quality forage within a bale. But it comes with a cost.
Rolling out hay bales for livestock can lead to an exorbitant amount of forage waste — anywhere from 15% to 50% depending on the quality of the hay, how much forage is available for consumption and the grazing habits of the livestock.
This practice can be utilized best when feed resources are plentiful and when feeding a lower-quality forage than is ideal for the class of livestock targeted.
It can be used in combination with other feeding techniques, such as feed bunks or ring feeders that are being used to feed the higher-quality forage.
5. Use ring hay feeders. Feeding round bales in ring feeders or grinding and feeding in bunks can lead to less waste. Ring feeders can be moved across the sacrifice area to help reduce mud and wet conditions in one area of the field, or they can be placed on a concrete slab so the removal of mud and manure can be easily handled.
Using these feeders often results in less waste, but it can result in more pasture damage over time if placed continuously in one area.
6. Stockpile forage for deferred grazing. Stockpiling pasture for deferred winter grazing can be a good way to extend the grazing season, keep livestock out on pasture and out of the sacrifice lot, feed higher-quality forage than harvested forages, and encourage nutrient distribution.
A managed strip-grazing technique is necessary to optimize the utilization of the stockpiled forage and minimize trampling and waste. Although the forages are in a dormant state, we still recommend maintaining a 3-inch residue height — remember, that forage will need to regrow in the spring.
Carbohydrate reserves are stored in the lowest portion of the cool-season perennial plant, just above the soil surface. If the livestock graze too low and eat the plant’s reserves, it will take longer to regenerate and regrow the following spring.
7. Select hardy forage species for the sacrifice area. Forage species that can withstand harsh conditions with dense root systems and high tolerance to frequent grazing will do best at withstanding year-after-year winter feeding. Ideal cool-season perennial forages are Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue.
8. Feed on concrete or structured feeding pads. Feeding livestock on concrete or another hard surface allows for the concentration of manure and urine to be in a centralized area and will ease removal of these nutrients. If livestock are then able to go to a dry area for leisure and bedding, this further improves the benefit of the area.
9. Reseed damaged areas after feeding. Reseeding severely damaged sacrifice areas with annual forages is an excellent way to optimize forage production in that area while also suppressing weed pressure. Planting a warm-season annual such as sudangrass, sorghum Sudan or pearl millet in the sacrifice area will allow the opportunity for pasture productivity from an otherwise low-producing field.
Source: Farm Progress