By Kendra Juurlink, B.Sc. (Agr), Alberta Farm Animal Care
Grazing is an important aspect of livestock management and behaviour. Farmers aim to reduce the economic impact on their production system as much as possible. Cow-calf operations tend to keep their livestock in small areas and provide supplemental feed (hay or silage). This is a costly strategy for producers and accounts for two-thirds of the costs of production.
A recent study was completed on the Sieben Livestock Company Ranch (located in the Montana Big Belt Mountains) to explore the most efficient type of grass and legumes to grow over the fall and winter for grazing livestock.
“It is estimated that grazing versus feeding cattle during the winter can save 42% to 70% of the yearly input costs in the western United States and Saskatchewan, Canada” – Chase Hibbard.
The study began by switching the cows to calve in late spring. This allowed the cows to be in the second trimester of pregnancy during the winter which allowed the farmers to maintain the cows on stockpiled winter forage of lesser quality.
The species of grasses examined included meadow bromegrass, intermediate wheat grass, tall fescue, orchard grass, and crested wheatgrass. As well, alfalfa, sainfoin, and burnet were used as legumes.
The size and soil type of the location in the study was 10.6 ha, Monad Loam. There was no irrigation or fertilizer, except for manure from grazing cows, applied to plots. Resulting in less cost in forage production. For reference, Central Alberta is mostly lacustrine soil or black chernozem whereas in other places the soil is covered with debris that the glaciers left behind. This is an important consideration when comparing plant species grown in the Alberta region.
This research is important for producers to adjust management strategies by considering replacing harvested forage with stockpiled forage to be grazed post-grazing season. By improving grass mixture for stockpiled winter forage allows for a longer grazing season. The research has shown that the economic return is greater than the initial cost of changing forage species which is beneficial for producers.
Hibbard, C., Hibbard, C., Larsen, R., Feuz, R., Rigby, C. W., Jensen, K. B., & Larsen, R. (2021). Potential to improve winter grazing pastures: Sieben land and livestock study. Rangelands, 43(3), 100-110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rala.2020.12.007