Bale Grazing 2015

This is our third winter bale grazing the cattle on pasture.  The idea is simple — fence off hay bales with portable electric fences and as the cattle eat through bales, roll fences back every few days to expose new feed.  There are different ways of looking at the economics of bale grazing versus winter yarding or barn feeding.  There are situations in which either one might make more sense than the other.  In our situation, bale grazing makes the most sense since it requires almost no infrastructure (buildings, concrete pads, permanent fencing), no winter tractor work, and no manure spreading.  It allows us to place cattle in different fields in different winters, thus concentrating the manure in places that need the fertility the most.

The cattle eat the bale starting at the center.  The outside few inches is usually frozen and a little weathered, so they ignore the crust and go for the better quality hay in the core.

The cattle eat the bale starting at the center. The outside few inches is usually frozen and a little weathered, so they ignore the crust and go for the better quality hay in the core.

We have found that dairy cattle don’t gain much weight bale grazing in cold weather, so this year we only kept the stockiest dairy steers with our herd.  The beef cattle do just fine.  Their shaggy winter coats and thicker hides keep them well insulated.  There is a higher waste factor in bale grazing versus using hay feeders, since a lot of the hay gets trampled.  In our case, we’re dealing with pretty stemmy hay, so the waste is higher than what it would be if we had better hay.  But the wasted hay isn’t an absolute loss, since it provides an insulating bed for the cattle to rest on rather than standing in snow (or mud).  And so long as the hay is coming from a different farm, it represents a source of imported fertility once it breaks down.

The bull is resting on the bale residue while ruminating.  Most of this pile will be gone by the next day.

The bull is resting on the bale residue while ruminating. Most of this pile will be gone by the next day.

The calves are still small enough that they slip under the electric fences.  We don’t mind this.  It actually serves as a kind of “creep feeding”, where the calves can cherry pick the best hay ahead of the rest of the herd.

Here the JV squad has slipped under the fence.  This year is the first time we've strung the fences using fiberglass rods inserted into the bales.  The rods are more prone to slipping (it would help if we had rods longer than five feet).  But it is a better system than we previously used where we would need to position hundreds of step in posts before the ground froze.

Here is a group of calves that slipped under the fence. This year is the first time we’ve strung the fences using fiberglass rods inserted into the bales. The rods are more prone to sagging with snow load (it would help if we had thicker rods). But it is a better system than we previously used where we would need to position hundreds of step in posts before the ground froze.

2 Comments on “Bale Grazing 2015

    • We’ve been happy with the results. Like all livestock management decisions, bale grazing is an imperfect solution to a challenging problem. We’d like to figure out how to reduce hay feeding, but that’s a tall order in this climate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: