Bale Grazing as a Winter-Feeding Option

By Taylor Lenard, AAg, Range Management Extension Specialist, Tisdale

Bale grazing is one of many winter feeding options producers can take into consideration. When deciding if this option is a good fit, there are a few key points that should be kept in mind, such as site selection, bale placement and nutrient management.

Site Selection
Perennial tame forage pastures and hay lands are an ideal site for bale grazing. Having at least one rhizomatous grass species (smooth brome, Kentucky bluegrass) in your forage blend results in fewer dead spots in the stand the following years. They also have a greater chance of growing through the thick layer of organic material left behind after grazing and competing with weeds versus annual cropland or bunchgrasses. Considerations for an annual cropland site include uneven nutrient distribution, left over trash (including bale waste, twine and manure) getting caught up in the seeding equipment the following year and snow packing from hoof compaction, potentially delaying the spring thaw/seeding date. Native prairie is not recommended for bale grazing as it can introduce/spread invasive species throughout the pasture. It may also create too fertile of an environment for the native species to thrive.

Bale Placement

Leaving bales round side down in the same field they were baled can save on transportation and labour costs; however, this can lead to wildlife damage if bales are left out all summer and into the winter months. For nutrient distribution and cattle handling ease, place bales on a grid system with 35-foot spacing between. Starting with fields that have the lowest fertility will result in the biggest gain from the added nutrients. Stay away from riparian areas during sensitive times prior to freezing when hoof damage can occur. Choose spots with minimal slope to avoid runoff as well as low lying areas where nutrients may build up and cause groundwater contamination.

Nutrient Management

Manure and organic material from 1,300-pound alfalfa/grass hay bales placed at 25 bales/acre is considered environmentally friendly; however, it is not recommended to go above this rate. Regular movement of cattle allows for more uniform nutrient distribution. The optimal timing of moves is three to four days, therefore, placing enough feed required for that timeframe is suggested. Annual soil testing will help determine areas that are lacking or in-excess of nutrients. Field rotation from year-to-year helps draw down some of the soil nutrients so they don’t become excessive.

Bale grazing requires pre-planning and site preparation but can provide both economic and environmental benefits to your operation. For more information on bale grazing and other perennial forage questions please contact your local range management extension specialist.

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