I have found a lot of disbelievers in my travels. “Bale grazing is not grazing” they say. The funny thing is, once someone tries it, they won’t go back to feeding cattle in the traditional manner. Bale grazing is a method of feeding harvested feed but with one unique difference. You are using a grazing mentality. Oh, and of course, it is much cheaper! The reason I bale graze is to save money. I can reduce the cost of yardage substantially and as a bonus, receive a tremendous amount of fertilizer in the process. When you have to feed, to me, bale grazing is a no-brainer!
So what is bale grazing? There are a few ways to bale graze but the key to each method is to reduce the labour and equipment usage! If you have a love for equipment and the need for hard work, this may not be for you. If you enjoy family time and saving money, then read on. I can feed 350 head of dry cows all winter long with a half-hour of labour per week. The rest of the time I am cosy in the comforts of my home or doing some other much more enjoyable task other than feeding cows. The key to this system is to never have your bales see the hay yard. Whichever method I use, the hay gets delivered to the pasture where it is grazed. Every time you handle feed, it costs you money. So I avoid handling bales. I am also a big fan of self-unloading trucks as it saves me time and handling costs.
Method 1: I place the winter’s supply of hay out in a rectangular pasture in the fall. I calculate out for the number of cows and the lbs./day and the number of days required. The bales are placed in rows on their side with the butts all facing towards the gate. The twine is removed in the fall! If I can get it, I request sisal twine on my hay because that will eliminate the labour of pulling twine altogether. (Pulling twine on 1,000 bales is a boring, thankless job.) I can remove twine at 42 bales per hour in September. How fast are you? In January it is more like 15 bales per hour… sometimes one bale per hour with frozen twines! I then ration off a four-or five-day supply of feed using an electric wire. The bales are in rows so I don’t fight with frozen ground. I use the next set of bales as posts. By inserting an eight-
foot rebar post into the end of the bale, I am able to very quickly ration off one row of bales.
Method 2: I have purchased hay from local producers who are willing to deliver the hay with their own tractor and wagon. I pay them to deliver it but instead of stacking it in a hay yard, they unload it in my pasture for me, which they say is easier and quicker than stacking. With this method, I never touch the bales. I usually get them to place a five-day supply of bales in each paddock on end. They are placed on end because in the wintertime, the twines are a bit easier to pull when frozen with ice than if they were placed normally. They usually deliver once a month or whenever it is convenient for them. They just keep filling up paddocks that we have already grazed. You can also use a longer graze period on this method by leaving the twine on the bales. The twine acts as a feeder to slow down their consumption. I personally would only do this with sisal twine as it will decompose. I still respect Mother Nature as much as I can. I have also tried it with bale wrap and it works well but leaves a mess of wrap to clean up. Try removing just the top half of the wrap or twine; the results are interesting. If you need to put two or three sets of bales out in the same paddock, which works too, just move a temporary wire between them to help ration them off.
Method 3: This is a variation of Method 1, only I set it up as a leader/follower system. The dilemma with bale grazing weanlings is that either they don’t clean up good enough or they don’t gain if you push them. In this system, the weanlings get to eat the first half of the bales and the cows come in after and do cleanup. It does not really matter the ratio of cows to weanlings; you move both groups when the cows are done. This way the weanlings get to eat the best of the best and still do quite well on gain. You may want to set up the fencing to allow access to a water source on opposite sides of the paddock with lifters. This could be set up that the weanlings have access to a water bowl out one side and the cows to a field of snow out the end. Again, I said monitor your herd. If the weather gets really cold, you may need to increase the ration if you don’t want to lose condition.
I’m sure there are many other ways to set this up, so all of you “bale graziers” out there who have another way, that’s great, but this is my article. As long as it reduces labour and saves money, then go for it.
In any system, I would recommend a four-to five-day graze period. I feel the balance between labour, animal nutrition and feed waste is optimal. Because of the increased bunk space, fewer “skinnies” show up because for the first four days, everyone eats well. On the last day, everyone cleans up. By leaving the twine on you can extend that to a couple of weeks if you want. Just monitor the herd. If you plan for a five-day ration, don’t fall for the “Brown-Eyed Syndrome” and move them early. It will cost you if you weaken! If it helps your sympathetic side, ration out just less than five days’ worth of feed, and on the fifth day, unroll the remaining bales to give each cow access and ease your troubled soul. This will, however, increase your yardage costs.
I will continue next month with the economics of bale grazing. We can look into “why you will never go back!”
Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Grazing Management in Busby, Alta.,www.greenerpasturesgrazing.com,(780)307-2275.