Thursday, May 19, 2011

Winter Feed Management in May

As many followers of this blog already know we graze all winter long here at the Rockin H Ranch.  We do not follow the protocol for traditional rotational grazing and stockpiling forages.  Our system of grazing is based on the Holistic approach of planned grazing.  We have found out that if we wish to graze all winter with no hay feeding what we do right now with our forages, early May, will have tremendous effects on how much grazing we can do next winter. 

It is real easy to slough off any serious planned grazing this time of year because for most of us it appears we have much more forage than we can utilize.  And for some it is approaching that time of year where mechanically harvesting of hay begins.  On our ranch we have found that the quickest road to shortages of winter grazing can be accomplished the quickest by processing hay on your own farm.  Yes, cutting of hay in a paddock will eventually reduce total annual production of forage from that paddock.  Allowing that forage to come to full seed head, before grazing and trampling in the residue, will build organic matter in a way that no other system can.  This will slowly increase total production of forages, and increase diversity in the paddock of higher quality forages that never get a chance to establish if the paddock would have been cut for hay. 
Dense, multi specie forages create healthy balance for soil and animals

A productive planned grazing program is not as simple as always letting all your paddocks grow to maturity.  But we all know we must minimize winter hay feeding to be profitable on the ranch.  What many have not learned that it is during this fast growth period in the springtime that we must act upon to take advantage of what this system has to offer in this area.  Once the summer is over and fall is here it is literally impossible to grow enough forage before growing seasons ends, in a closed system, to eliminate winter hay feeding .  But with a sound planned grazing program not only can most all winter hay feeding be eliminated, but total livestock numbers will eventually have to be increased if you choose to use this extra forage production.  It is possible to grow an amount of forages in a planned grazing program that approaches silage production in tonnage per acre.  And this is without ever firing up a tractor or buying anything.  When perennial forages approach the production level of annuals, the entire reason for the huge expense for working ground, planting seed, harvesting, and then mechanically feeding animals from this high input system no longer has advantages of any kind.

1 comment:

  1. As a newbie grazer (hogs and chickens) in WI I would like to know how, that is if we ever get to the point of having livestock overwintering... i presume the winter snowcover here makes a big difference-but still- to be able to extend grzing into nov/dec could make a big difference.

    kris

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