Sarah Sommerfeld, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist, Outlook
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Winter feed costs can account for up to 60 per cent of the total cash costs of maintaining a cow herd. Late season grazing can provide producers with the opportunity to reduce winter feeding costs. In order for late season grazing to occur, a well thought grazing management plan must be designed. Producers need to be proactive in setting aside a portion of their forage resources for use in late season grazing.
Late season grazing can be achieved through different options such as annual forages, perennial forages or crop residues. Depending on the land base and forage resources available, a producer may use all three of these options.
Developing a grazing plan can be a challenge. Many factors outside a producer’s control such as weather conditions, wildlife, insects or any other unforeseen circumstances can greatly affect forage production and create a need to adjust a grazing plan. When developing a plan, it is important to consider both short-term and long-term achievable outcomes. If the long-term outcome of the operation is to make use of more late season grazing, perhaps a short-term outcome would be to utilize crop residues, such as stubble, straw and chaff. If crop residues are not available on-farm, the chance to build an arrangement with neighboring grain producers may be an option.
Another important aspect in developing a grazing plan is to take an inventory of the forage resources. Producers should take the time to know the production limitations of the land base, identify the vegetation growing and assess the condition of pastures. As this information is collected, producers can begin to balance the forage supply with the animal requirements.
The forage resource inventory can be useful in identifying pasture sites that are more suitable for late season grazing. With respect to tame perennial forages, forage species, such as meadow bromegrass and cicer milkvetch, are better suited to late season use than smooth bromegrass or alfalfa. Both meadow bromegrass and cicer milkvetch maintain forage quality late into the grazing season. Cicer milkvetch has better leaf retention than alfalfa, thus making it a better choice for late season use.
Once the grazing plan has been put into action, a key point in reaching the operation’s long term outcomes is monitoring and flexibility. A producer must be willing to monitor the forage resources and adapt the grazing plan to suit environmental conditions and production limitations.
For more information on late season grazing or developing a grazing plan, contact the Regional Forage Specialist at 306-867-5559, visit the Ministry of Agriculture website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca or contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.