South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

Sept 2019

Last winter was a tough one

The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a “parade of snowstorms” on the Northern Plains. The verdict will be in next April. In the meantime, being ready for a hard winter is never a bad idea. Some things to think about include:

Where are the bales?

Some producers had a difficult time getting to their hay because of where it was stored. How about items like corral panels? Feed bunks? Can they be accessed in spite of heavy snow or heavy mud next spring? Bringing bales home could be a problem in some areas of the state this fall. Would it be possible to take the cattle to the hay instead of bringing it to them?

What is your grazing plan for winter?

Grazing crop residue, swath grazing, bale grazing, and just plain old stockpiled grassland are all possibilities. All help decrease labor, machinery and fuel costs.

Swath grazing

Larry Wagner has swath grazed for years. His experience has taught him that cool-season grasses cut at their highest nutritional value works well for swath grazing. Regrowth is not a problem; it helps hold the swath in place and can be figured into the ration. Pearl millet and intermediate wheatgrass work well. He thinks sudan grass or other cover crops that were planted on prevent plant acres could also be swath grazed. He usually uses his swathed fields early in the season, but has also done swath grazing in the spring after snow melt. In wet conditions he places the polywire just inside the swath. The cows reach under the fence to graze it, so the feed doesn’t get muddy. Wagner prefers an east-west rectangular field to work with. Contact him at 605-680-1018 for more swath grazing tips.

Bale grazing

It keeps the cows fed, but the big benefit is the boost to soil health. Old hay fields, CRP, feedlots, overgrazed grassland and crop land can all benefit from bale grazing.

Dennis Hoyle, Roscoe

Has old CRP ground heavy on brome that he either grazes or hays. This year he hayed it, leaving the bales where they fell. Because he’s had trouble with snow insulating the electric wire, he won’t section it off, but will allow the cattle full access. This has worked well in the past. The cattle can access fresh water and wind protection. He noted that this setup enables him to be gone for a few days, only needing someone to check the water. The big payoff in terms of soil health resulted in increased forage production in that field during dry years.

How much snow is too much snow for bale grazing?

Dallas Anderson said it is almost unlimited as long as the cattle can get around to wind protection and water. Years ago he had a horse in with the cows and used small round bales. The cows moved in after the horse pawed through to the hay. He leaves the net wrap on his big bales today. “I think the cows clean it up better, because a new bale is harder to get started. Cleaning up the net wrap is a spring chore.”

Keeping pasture in reserve for after the snow melts next spring can bridge the gap between what will likely be a very muddy spring and new grass while avoiding tearing up the pasture with a tractor. In some areas of the state, a number of corn acres suffered severe hail damage. Grazing it would be one way of salvaging it. See the January 2019 issue of the newsletter in the Coalition website newsletter and news archives for information on grazing standing corn.

When it comes to managing cattle during a South Dakota winter, having many options is the best strategy!

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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