The Sommerfelds run a 250-head purebred Gelbvieh and commercial herd on 3,700 acres along the fringe of the northern boreal forest near Medstead, Sask.
The cows are fed shredded bales in the field during the fall, then moved in groups into a corral as calving nears in mid-January. The pairs are fed on the field again for about 30 days in May before turnout on summer pasture.
Ryan knows people in the area who have had relatively good success most years using bale grazing and, to some extent, swath grazing — but the risks are high.
“Out of curiosity about three years ago, I started keeping track of numbers so I could evaluate our system and compare it to bale grazing,” he says. This past summer he recorded hours, acres and fuel consumed for each operation — swathing, raking, baling, hauling bales, winter feeding, corral cleaning — right down to post pounding.
It worked out to 1,993 gallons of diesel. Most of it was used in the haying and winter feeding operations for 250 cows for seven months and 250 calves for three and a half months. Another 455 gallons of gasoline was used to haul the hay from the fields to the yard. His machinery investment using current market value for the tractor, haybine, balers, remodelled v-rake and bale hauling trucks was $17.30 per acre, or $256 per cow.
If he made a total switch to bale grazing the cows and calves on the fields where the bales were made, he could save 1,350 gallons of diesel and reduce his machinery expense. He would also capture far more value from the manure and urine spread directly on the field by the animals versus the nutrient loss and costs associated with cleaning corrals and spreading it on the land.
Now Sommerfeld is weighing the benefits against the risks. Would the savings on fuel be enough to cover wildlife losses or weather-related problems that could result in having to purchase and haul in feed? Then there are questions around whether some of the larger 1,500-plus-pound cows would adapt to an extensive winter feeding program and how it would fit in with the purebred operation. He has been made aware of the possibility of lost production in terms of body condition score on the cows, conception rates and weaning weights — i. e. less income — particularly during the first few years.
The numbers would be different on every farm, but they are the numbers you need to manage what you can do without giving up too much production. Already he has come up with possible ideas for modifying the typical bale grazing scenario to suit his environment. He plans to keep talking with people who have more experience with bale grazing before he starts making the change.
The Tavanetz farm had traditionally been a mixed operation until about 10 years ago when Dean and his brother began to seed some of the cropland to forages. Today, the entire farm is devoted to a 250-head cow herd and yearling operation.
The topography of the land is ideally suited to beef production with treed areas for shelter, sloughs for water, and open areas now seeded to a mix of smooth brome, meadow brome, cicer milkvetch and alfalfa. Herbicide costs have been reduced by sowing oats at the half rate and sweet yellow clover at a maximum of a pound an acre as a cover crop.
Adequate brush control is achieved by feeding in and around the treed areas during the winter months.
Though growing annual crops for swath grazing would increase fuel usage, he is considering reintroducing swath grazing as part of the process of renovating old, rough forage stands.
Dean and Rita belong to two grazing co-operatives. The arrangement allows them to stockpile grass closer to home for early spring, late fall and winter grazing. It does restrict their flexibility somewhat as far as moving the calving start date any further ahead than April 1. The calves are weaned, wintered, grassed and sold as long yearlings the following August.
Tavanetz is working toward incor-