Study finds windrow grazing suitable way of feeding livestock
A University of Nebraska study has found windrow grazing as a suitable alternative to feeding bales of forage to livestock. The study, performed in the Nebraska Sandhills, compared the two separate methods of harvesting forage.
Jerry Volesky, range and forage specialist with the University of Nebraska, gave a presentation on windrow grazing during the 2009 West Central Cattleman’s Day in Ogallala earlier this past week. Two remaining meetings will be held in McCook on Nov. 23 and in Imperial on Nov. 24.
“As far as windrow grazing is concerned, quite a few people have tried it with varying degrees of success,” Volesky explained. “Whether or not it will work in your operation depends upon your situation, but it can work quite successfully.”
Volesky said the most important factor to keep in mind is that the nutritive value of the plant declines with age. A decrease in protein and digestibility will also occur as the plant matures, and there will be an increase in fiber lignin and cell wall components.
In the Sandhills study, within the same field, researchers cut down forage around the first of September and left it in windrows for fall and winter grazing. They also baled every other row to compare the bales to the windrows. Afterward, they went in monthly and evaluated both methods by sampling the bales and windrows and comparing them based on crude protein value, forage quality, forage waste, calf weight gain, windrow effects on the meadow and economics.
According to Volesky, the most important point to remember with either method is harvesting the forage when it is at the best quality.
“Timing and stage of growth are very important,” he said. “It needs to be at a stage of maturity that captures it at its best quality.”
Sampling the bales and windrows for crude protein, Volesky said they found no difference in using either method. The sampling was done at monthly intervals from September through February.
In evaluating forage waste, Volesky said there was 24 percent waste after grazing calves in the windrows, and a 12 percent waste after feeding calves bales. However, there was only 11 percent waste after windrows were grazed by both cows and calves.
Volesky said that if producers choose to graze their cattle in windrows, they may want to consider using a temporary electric fence to allocate a week’s worth of grazing at a time.
“If you let them have the whole field, some people believe they would tear up, waste and bed down in the windrows, significantly adding to the amount of forage they waste,” he said. “However, I’ve talked to people who have said it is too much work to re-fence, so they turn them into the whole field. They said they didn’t notice any difference in the amount of forage wasted.”
Some producers interested in windrow grazing have asked Volesky about how snow impacts feeding the cattle in windrows during the winter months.
“Even with a foot of snow, once the cattle know where those windrows are, they will find them – even in the snow,” he said. “However, I have heard of some people who have taken a four-wheeler and run over the windrows with it to break up the ice and snow so the cattle can find it easier.”
During the study, Volesky said they also looked at the effect windrows had on next year’s grass. They found a net effect of about 80 pounds less per acre in the areas where the windrows were, and a few more forbes were growing. Volesky didn’t feel that was a significant reduction.
“There may be slightly less grass production,” Volesky added, “but it does leave a lot more nutrients in the soil where those windrows were. The effects of that may not show up until the following year.”
Some producers also windrow graze alfalfa. The University of Nebraska forage research expert said he has had ranchers tell him that they have cut down their last cutting of alfalfa in October and left it in windrows for winter grazing.
“They have a hard time getting it to dry down properly that time of year,” he noted. Volesky said one person used the alfalfa for supplemental grazing because the field was located next to a field of cornstalks. “He would graze the cornstalks, then turn the cattle into the alfalfa for a while to supplement his cattle,” he said.
Grazing forages in windrows can work for other crops besides grass and alfalfa. Windrow grazing can be beneficial for other crops like millet, oats, rye, sorghum sudangrass and barley, Volesky said. In another study, rye was planted May 10 and put down in windrows for grazing in late May and early June.
“In the case of rye, you can capture the better quality of the rye before it has fully matured,” he said.
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A pasture or lot with plenty of grass or bedding and windbreak is important when calving in the cold.