– Jeff McCutcheon, Extension Educator, Ag & NR, Morrow County
As we approach winter I have a question for you. Where do you feed your livestock?
When the grass runs out do you bring them to a barn or facility to feed them? Do you leave them out on pasture and bring the feed to them? The reason for my question is that experienced graziers spend the fall planning their winter feeding programs. Planning to the point of not only what they will feed but also where they will feed the animals.
I do not know the exact percentage, but it should be safe to say that many forage based livestock producers use round bales of hay as their primary stored winter feed. Hay is stored in some central location and then moved to the field for feeding. Quite a few of these producers feed round bales in rings out in the pasture field. Depending on the number of animals to be fed, producers will move bales out to these rings two or three at a time. This requires starting a tractor and moving bales throughout winter and in less than ideal conditions.
Some graziers are using the dry days in fall to place bales where they will do the most good. They are placing bales in protected areas for nasty weather, areas with access to water and even in areas that they want to improve.
I first saw this system demonstrated by the Missouri Forage Systems Research Center and have seen it adapted for many different farms in Ohio. The placement of the bales will depend on each farm, but basically consists of bales set out in fields about 20 to 25 ft apart in rows. The spacing is to allow enough space between bales for livestock to eat. You can use more or less rows depending on the amount of livestock you have and the field you are using.
After you set the bales, a temporary electric fence can be used to exclude the stock for the remainder of the grazing season. When hay feeding begins, the appropriate number of bales is exposed with ring feeders over them and the livestock are allowed access. The number of bales fed depends on the number of animals. Hay should be consumed in two to three days. If it takes longer than that then hay wastage will increase significantly.
Any type of fencing may be used to protect the bales from the livestock during the season. Poly-tape and step-in posts seem to be the fence of choice. This fence can be moved very quickly and is highly visible to the livestock, thus making it very effective. One major consideration in winter is the use of step-in post in frozen ground. A post with a small diameter spike and a broad foot piece will work best in frozen ground with heavy boots.
During winter you could carry a cordless drill to help plant post. Concrete post anchors, using 5-gal buckets as forms, will also work. A piece of 3/16 diameter tube set in the center makes a hole for the step-in post.
The labor required for feeding bales this way is not necessarily less than conventional feeding systems. You still have to move the bales. You just get to spend less time doing it in winter.
Some producers have used this system to improve run down fields. By placing bales for winter feeding they import nutrients and organic matter in the form of manure and wasted hay to areas that need it. Usually they also import seed from the hay.
Are there areas of your pastures that could use extra manure? Can you get to them in winter with a tractor? Would placing bales during dry days in fall make your winter easier?