Reducing impact on pastures: alternative grazing options

  From the September 10, 2018 issue of Agri-News
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 In a year when conditions are dry and feed is expensive and limited, alternative feed sources may be the only option to get through the winter and the cow herd remain profitable. Andrea Hanson, livestock extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, looks at some options.

“The goal of any cow-calf operation is to ensure the herd is re-bred each year, grow as many pounds of calf per cow as possible while minimizing the feed cost per pound of calf sold,” says Hanson. “With feed costs amounting to two-thirds of the yearly cost of keeping a cow, minimizing feed costs is particularly important, especially in a dry year when feed prices are high.”

One of the most economical ways to feed the herd is to use local sources. “Trucking costs can add up quickly, so staying local reduces fuel and equipment costs significantly,” adds Hanson.

“If a crop has been harvested already, or a fallow field with enough soil moisture to germinate seed is available, consider seeding a winter annual crop to use for fall grazing,” says Hanson. “Fall rye, winter triticale, and winter wheat are crops that can provide some fall grazing as well as early spring grazing next year.”

If planting a winter annual, Hanson says to consider these points:

    • Provide some straw or a drier grass stand in an adjacent pasture to add fibre to the animals’ diet.
    • Avoid applying a lot of nitrogen to the crop to decrease the concern of nitrates. Crop stresses – like drought, frost - increase nitrate levels. A top dressing of fertilizer can be applied in the spring if nitrogen is needed.
    • To ensure the potential for grass tetany is reduced, supplement with a mineral with adequate magnesium levels.
Another option is to utilize crop residue. “Do you have a nearby neighbour who is willing to drop the straw of their grain crop,” suggests Hanson. “Your cows could then eat the crop residue early in the winter. By having the cows to do the work of feeding themselves in a field, it lowers your costs of running equipment, helping reduce the feeding costs of the herd. If straw and chaff are going to be used as a feed supply, it is very important that it is used early in the season when the herd’s dietary requirements are lower. Straw in the diet does not work for cows that are milking.”

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Andrea Hanson

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Andrea Hanson.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on September 6, 2018.