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Bale grazing on the Niagara Escarpment

"Bale grazing with sisal twine seemed to make so much sense," Bill Redrupp says.

Intrigued with what he had been reading about practices to extend the grazing season out west, Bill Redrupp was keen to give them a try on his mixed farm located on the foothills of the Niagara Escarpment near the former shipbuilding community of Collingwood, Ont., on Georgian Bay.

About three years ago, he called Canadian Cattlemen for a list of resource people on the subject and went to work setting up a bale-grazing system to winter his herd of 25 Hereford cows. He recently called to say that bale grazing works equally well in his area of Ontario, where there aren’t a lot of cattle to start with and bale grazing is even less common.

“Bale grazing using sisal twine seemed to make so much sense — taking the animals to the bales and catching manure in the field,” Redrupp says. “The only negative I could see was feed wastage, but the wastage is of value to the land building up soil.”

He started by bale grazing the herd through November and December because he was leery about winter weather conditions, mainly the effects of high winds whipping off the escarpment come January and February more so than snow buildup. Now, the cows bale graze winter long, starting around the first of December.

Many years, such as this with ample precipitation and sunshine, he has pasture to graze well into November. Corn stover for late-fall grazing is a bonus every third year in his cash crop rotation, which happened to roll around this year in the midst of abundant forage growth for pasture and hay.

The first cut of hay alone nearly covered off the 200 bales needed to see the herd through the winter and a second cut yielded another 135. With the drought of 2012 fresh in everyone’s mind, he is happy to have the carry-over as insurance. Though his farm was on the edge of the drought and had enough pasture, he did have to buy in some hay and considers himself fortunate to have been able to find it close to home from a neighbour who had recently sold his herd.

The hayfields and pastures are a 50/50 mix of alfalfa with orchardgrass and brome grass. First-cut bales are moved off to the side to take a second cut and those bales are left to be grazed where they roll out of the baler. He’ll harrow over the residue to accommodate baling the following year.

The residue from bale grazing on pasture land is left for the cattle to work into the land, so he’ll change up the location from year to year to prevent heavy buildup in any one area and to treat areas that need special attention. He uses 40-foot spacings between bales whenever they have to be placed. In all, he sets up five 20-acre bale-grazing areas with single-strand electric fences for cross-fencing as needed and another movable wire to give the cows access to about two weeks of bales at a time.

He notices that the boost in forage growth from the added fertility and moisture retention really isn’t evident until the second summer after bale grazing.

So, it’s working from a forage production standpoint, Redrupp says, adding that he is particularly happy with the results on an eight-year-old hayfield, where production has not declined and the 50/50 mix is staying stable.

It’s also working from an economic perspective and even more so considering that he had been paying someone to do the haying and feed the herd all of the years up to his retirement as a partner in Pricewaterhouse Coopers at Toronto, where he was raised.

His mother was originally from the Collingwood area and as a kid he made frequent trips there with his parents to visit relatives. The view from the escarpment over the Georgian Bay was breathtaking and after securing his career in Toronto, it seemed like a good idea to invest in the little 60-acre farm on the slope that had come up for sale. A few years later, he added a nearby farm that included a sizeable piece of logged land not really suitable for cropping and went about returning it to its natural state by planting 30,000 white pines. He capped off his holding with the 75-acre farm next to his original farm, taking it up to 275 acres in all.

Though the size doesn’t compare to farms he sees out west, like the Douglas Lake Ranch he visited in 2012 while on the World Hereford Conference tour, it’s a fair-size operation for his neck of the woods where agricultural land is now selling for $10,000 an acre and can grow 150-bushel corn crops.

Redrupp’s farm is evenly split between cropland and forages for hay and pasture, along with the 50 acres of white pine and spruce forest.

Currently, he has a 50/50 crop-share agreement with a local farmer, Colin Walker, who runs a large dairy farm and retails crop inputs. Walker is very knowledgeable about cropping and Redrupp appreciates his willingness to teach him about what he is doing with the land and why. They use a three-crop rotation that includes corn, soybean and winter wheat.

Redrupp’s interest in Hereford cattle stems back to a visit to Hereford, England, while on a trip with a business partner. He had a bit of a rocky start in the beef industry, though, when the first cow he purchased and placed in a friend’s care was the one and only cow in the county to be diagnosed with brucellosis back in the days of mandatory testing.

He started over again with four Horned Herefords and built up a herd on his own place by paying neighbours to look after them. His Polled Hereford herd of today has been developed using good-quality bulls, retaining heifers from his own herd, and adding quality females from reputable breeders along the way.

“I don’t show cattle or promote purebreds, but I do enjoy quality and I am proud of the bloodlines and herd I’ve built on them through the years,” Redrupp says, adding that the sire of his current herd sire out of Bryan and Annette Latimer’s Remitall West herd near Olds, Alta., is the sire of the 2012 grand champion Hereford bull at the Toronto Royal Winter Fair and a paternal brother to the 2013 grand champion Hereford bull at the show in Denver, Colorado.

The aspect of the beef industry he probably enjoys the most is animal health and husbandry and his veterinarian has been a great mentor in this regard. When it comes right down to it, he simply likes everything about cattle and the land.

Admittedly, Herefords aren’t the most popular breed in the province. The light-coloured cattle with Continental breeding, such as Limousin and Charolais, are dominant and typically fetch top market prices.

He has found a fairly strong market through the Ontario Stock Yards at Cookstown for his 600-weight Hereford calves after weaning in early November. Buyers there recognize the Remitall name and appreciate the quality of the calves, so he has been able to capture premiums for quality when there are premiums to be had. Redrupp sends the herd sire’s ultrasound carcass data on the truck with the calves and the stockyard makes the information available to potential buyers before and during the sale. It helps, too, that a lot of Mennonite farms do business there and they are not usually in the market for large groups of feeder calves all at one time.

Trying some swath grazing is next on his to-do list and this was to be the year to get started until the rains came and boosted forage yields beyond his expectations.

The challenge of the ever-changing work environment and the opportunity to learn new things every day are all part of the intrigue of farming that holds Redrupp to the land.

— Debbie Furber is a field editor with Canadian Cattlemen at Tisdale, Sask. This article first appeared in the Fall 2013 special edition.


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