Evaluate Your Recent Winter Feeding Season

Grass is growing again!  We are ready to put the winter feeding season behind us and get on with the growing season. But before we get too far from this winter season, it is an excellent time to evaluate how it went. 

Are you happy with your winter program?  Did the hay you fed provide the energy your herd needed?  Did you need to supplement more for having lower quality hay?  Some things like the weather last spring are difficult to change. I wanted to share an example of how stockpiling winter grass (fall growth) compares to baling summer grass for feeding in the winter.

Stockpiling is essentially letting the grass grow in the fall without grazing it until after all the other grass has quit growing for the winter.  There is more to it though.  If you begin saving fall growth for grazing later in the year without changing other parts of your system stockpile grazing requires more land area. 

Some unpublished research from the University of Missouri Forage System Research Center (FSRC) in the 1990’s showed that winter stockpiling required about 50 percent more pasture area than what was grazed during the growing season.  The studies looked at grazing intensity as well as winter feeding so the most intensively grazed systems didn’t require more physical area.  But the winter stockpile system still required half the area of the growing season (summer) feeding area.

To really use winter stockpile forage effectively, it must be strip grazed with electric fence.  The cows should have access to just what they need each day, or they will trample the dormant grass down and it won’t last as long.

Stockpiling requires more land, but baling and fertilizer costs with stockpiling are lower (less fertility removed).  Those are the tradeoffs.  It may be that fuel and fertilizer are cheaper than land rent, or it may be that additional pasture land isn’t available to rent. To add stockpiling to your existing system without expanding available land may require intensification of grazing management or feeding fewer animals.

Based on this information it is easy to assign some costs for hay and stockpile systems based on dry matter consumption per day and yield assumptions. The chart below compares the cost of raised hay per head per day for feeding the cow for 120 days, purchasing hay for 120 days, and raising hay for 30 days (on surplus spring growth) and stockpiling for 90 days. The exact numbers in this example are not as important as the relative difference in costs between practices.

Figure 1 Relative winter feeding costs of raised hay, stockpile/hay, and purchased hay, $/head/day

In this example, raised hay calculated out to about a dollar per head per day ($1.08/hd/day).  A dollar per day per head is a common rule of thumb and a reasonable reference point. The purchased hay costs 50 percent more ($1.64/hd/day) than the raised hay.  The winter stockpile costs were 25 percent lower than the raised hay costs.  There is a barn-full of reasons this example may not represent your situation, but the cost comparisons between systems are pretty reasonable in this simple example.

Pasture rent was set at $40/acre and included 60 percent more land area (rent) for the stockpile examples. The price of a $1,000 lb bale of hay was $35/bale.  The cost of equipment and fertilizer per bale was $25/bale.  Every cow consumed 80 percent of the 30 lbs per day dry matter delivered, but the hay                  consumption also suffered an additional 20 percent wastage loss.

The point here is that this is a good time to evaluate your winter systems. Stockpiling may not help your operation, it is simply an example that there are alternatives and winter feeding is a critical component of grazing systems. Stockpiling, like other alternatives, will require some long-run planning to establish.

Source: Mark Jenner, MU Extension Ag Business Specialist