Winter Grazing and Paddock Differences

Grazing livestock in the winter is challenging. It takes a lot of time, thinking and good management to graze in the winter time. First, you need to have a stockpile of grass. Not grass in the form of hay, but grass that is still standing in your pastures. The grass needs to be high quality forage, and if you are using Mob/MIG/Rotational grazing chances are that it is.

Building a stockpile of grass for the non-growing season is easy with some planning. It can also be done on any scale. If you have 2 head of cattle or 2,000. Preparation is key.

Basically all you need to do is move your livestock through all of your pastures during the year. The tricky parts comes up when you are thinking about how much grass you should stockpile for the wintertime. Maybe you have your livestock graze most of your grass down from 18” to 3”. In this situation, you better hope that you have enough time and moisture to grow some more grass before the growing season is over. If your concerned, maybe you only graze half of the grass plant, leaving  the other half for the dormant season. It’s up to you and the uniqueness of your farm/ranch. Even if we live 10 miles apart, our land is completely different, but taking half and leaving half should be fine.

In the picture below, I want to show you the differences between a paddock that was grazed, and one that we just opened up to grazing. Keep in mind this is winter stockpile grass, and I took this picture with my phone.

Look at the difference of the grazed section, which is closest to us, and the winter stockpile which is behind the white post. You will see a few calves up in the good winter stockpile ‘creep grazing’.

The point of this post is this: Can you imagine how much hay you would have to buy/transport/store/feed to get that amount of high quality feed for your livestock? In this picture alone we’d be talking about 20 LARGE round bales of hay and thousands of dollars to get the equivelent amount of forage. Greg enlightened me to this fact, and it rocked my world! I never thought about it that way.

If your a homesteader with a few steers or dairy cows, or a large rancher, please consider winter stockpile for your livestock to graze next winter. When you don’t buy hay, your wallet will be fatter, and your livestock will be healthy and happy.

We had some good conversations last week. I want to see that continue! What do you guys think about winter stockpile for grazing? What are you experiences with it? If you don’t have any experience with it, are you as excited as I am about it!?

Please let me know in the comments section below.

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  • Thanks for the Like Albert!

  • Martin Hjertaas

    I agree completely that stockpile is necessary and valuable but when is it best put too use? I offer that feeding cows through the winter on stockpile may not be the most profitable use of the stored feed. Here in Saskatchewan we feed cows hay for 100 to 125 days at a cost of $225. We could shorten this period considerably by grazing our stockpile but it has a much greater value at the end of april through may when the grass is immature and washy. Having standing mature forage with young growth underneath provides a much higher level of animal performance than the lush pastures alone would support. Being paid on gain converts the stockpile to money better than feeding it to Cows. This is where using gross profit analysis really pays off. We have feed. To what use can it most profitably be directed.

    • Yes that does make sense given that you are in Saskatchewan and the length of your growing season is much shorter. I really like the idea of doing that in harsh environments. Here, where we can graze for a longer period of time, it makes sense to graze, because our spring regrowth will start much earlier than yours, and we won’t have 3 feet of snow on top of our stockpile.

      So in conclusion, you are using your hay to feed growing animals in april/may, not the cows, correct?

      Thanks for clarifying, that was very helpful!

      I hope to see you come back and provide us all with more thoughtful insights.

  • Martin Hjertaas

    We are feeding stockpile to the yearlings in early spring combined with the lush growth underneath the sward. This makes for exceptional animal performance at a challenging time of year.

    • Yep I got it now. Thanks. It just goes to show you that everyone has a different situation on their farm. It’s cool that we can find different solutions to similar problems. I’m looking forward to hearing from you in the future Martin.

      • jake

        I talked to a grazier in Northern Wisconsin who feeds hay for 6 months of the year. He had really good land and was really proud that he can run one AU/acre. I later found out that land leases in his area are $5-$10 per acre per year. If he halved his stocking rate by doubling his land and cut only one month of hay feeding he would be way ahead. Remember: profit/acre is more important than almost any other metric.

        Ian Mitchell Innes says when you take your cattle out of a paddock there should be enough grass for one more day plus enough littler to cover the ground. That means taking at most 1/3.

        In the spring you turn in at 8″ and leave 7″. then a month later you come in at 12″ and come out at 9″. Then later you come in at 18″ and come out at 15″. You get 3 more inches of fall growth and there you go. 18″ stockpiled grass. This is called growing your haystack.

        Even when you are grazing stockpiled grass, Greg Judy recommends you not take it all at once. If you can leave half of it standing you can always come back to it a few weeks or months down the line. If you don’t need to come back to it, it will be perfect for early spring grazing because you will have standing mature forage that the cattle can mix with the lush growth.

        I know this will work in Missouri, I just wonder about in the North. I would love to hear Martin’s thoughts on this idea.