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Environmental Considerations for Extensive Winter Feeding Sites

By Keana Boere, AAg, Agri-Environmental Specialist, Outlook

Extensive winter feeding is the practice of feeding animals in a field setting during the winter. Feeding using an extensive system can reduce an operation’s feeding, manure hauling and yardage costs. Grazing stockpiled forage (such as dormant perennial forage stands or pastures), swath grazing, bale grazing or feeding with a bale processor are ways that many producers have already adopted extensive winter feeding on their operations. The important difference compared to non-extensive feeding sites (corral systems) is that in extensive systems animals stay on the land where manure and nutrients are directly distributed.

Careful site selection and appropriate site management are critical in ensuring that the benefits of the extensive feeding system are captured, while ensuring that environmental risks are minimized. The greatest environmental risk associated with a wintering site relates to the potential impact on surface and ground water quality. Manure and crop residues associated with the wintering site are a source of nutrients, pathogens and sediments that have potential to move into water sources.

To minimize environmental risks, there are several factors to consider when selecting a site for extensive winter feeding.

  • The topography of a site impacts the risk of runoff, overland water flow and erosion. Steep slopes have a greater risk of nutrient and sediment runoff. The risk for runoff is highest during spring melt when the soil is still frozen. It is recommended to select a site with a slope gradient of less than two per cent. Runoff can also be managed by installing water control structures such as basins, berms or ditches.
  • Ground cover of the site also impacts the amount of runoff. Perennial forage stands or annual cropland with stubble remaining reduce are the best options for reducing the risk of water movement off site. Vegetation cover helps to slow and trap runoff water, reducing the risk of surface water contamination.
  • To directly protect water sources from runoff and leaching contamination, select sites that are located away from surface water bodies. Areas with coarse-textured soils and shallow water tables are at a higher risk for contamination by leaching nutrients. Avoid wintering on these sites to protect water sources.

Management of the site after the winter-feeding season is also important. Manure and feed residues can build up over the winter and may need to be addressed before the growing season starts. Harrowing to spread manure or feed residue or tillage operations on annual cropland prior to seeding can help distribute nutrients and manure.

Selecting an extensive winter-feeding site that considers animal needs and limits negative environmental impacts requires careful planning. Consider the limitations of your site and possible management actions. For more information contact your local regional office or call the Agriculture Knowledge Center at 1-866-457-2377.

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