Grazing Cattle Year-Round Pays Off
By Don Comis
July 3, 2008
The good ol' days are coming back to the Northern Plains, with new
twists based on recent research findings by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.
ARS researchers in Mandan, N.D., have shown that a newly designed
program of "swath grazing allows cattle to, once again, graze year-round,
even in the middle of a North Dakota winter. The concept involves pushing
harvested crop leftovers into row piles up to 16 inches high, to keep them
within reach of cows in winter.
Winter grazing, from mid-November through mid-March in North Dakota,
can save farmers as much as 24 cents per cow per day, compared to the costs of
baling hay for winter corral feeding. With a herd of 200 cows, that would save
a farmer more than $4,000 in feed costs a year.
Tanaka and colleagues at the
Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan calculated those
savings based on data from a four-year research project. In each year of the
study, the scientists monitored 20 pregnant Hereford beef cows due to give
birth in March. The nutritional needs of pregnant cows increases as pregnancy
advances. This makes the winter feeding of late-pregnant cows one of the most
expensive times in beef cattle production.
The researchers compared weight gains from swath-grazing cows on the
residue of annual cropsoats/peas, triticale/sweet clover and cornto
gains with perennial western wheatgrass, and with bales of hay fed in winter
Another benefit of swath grazing: The cows in this system also
distributed their manure evenly over the landscape, eliminating the chore of
removing manure from corrals. The manure also provides fertilizer for crops and
improves the soil.
Integrating crops and livestock benefits both enterprises.
about the research in the July 2008 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is a scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.