CC Cows in Winter

Winter feed costs are the largest single expense in most livestock grazing production systems. Extending the grazing to reduce the cost of feeding stored feed will greatly increase profits. Labor can be reduced 25% or more. Rotational grazing takes about three hours per acre per year as opposed to hay production, which takes seven hours per acre per year. The cost for grazing a cow per day is $.25 compared to $1.00 per day to feed hay to a cow.

The first step is to evaluate the potential, available, existing feed. Crop residue can be an abundant winter feed. Corn stalks can maintain a spring calving cow in good body condition for about 60 days after corn harvest. The feed value will decline quickly after the 60-day period. Cattle will select and eat grain, then husks and leaves, and last cobs and stalks. Strip grazing increases utilization, rations the feed, and reduces the need for supplementation. The crop fields should be grazed so that adequate residue remains soil erosion control.

Stockpiled perennial grasses can be grazed in the late fall/early winter. The general recommendation is to clip or make hay in the field during the end of July and apply 30 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. High-producing, clean, well-drained fescue and orchard grass meadows would be a good choice. Let the forage grow until you need it. Strip grazing will increase utilization.

Winter annual forage crops can be used to provide grazing. Brassicas are easy to establish, fast-growing, high-yielding, and high-quality and can withstand cold temperatures. Turnips can reach maximum quality in as little as 60 days. The tops can tolerate temperatures down to 20 degrees and the bulbs down to 10 degrees. Cows and sheep will eat both the tops and bulbs.

Grazing and presetting round bales prior to feeding can reduce trampling and extend the grazing season. Setting rounds 20 feet on center in the fall when the weather is fit and moving a temporary electric fence to feed them reduces winter feeding time. Hay should be fed away from drainage ways and near livestock watering sources. Feeding hay in low fertility areas will improve the fertility and future pasture quality.

Livestock heavy use areas or pads should be located outside the flood plains. If the pad is located close to a watercourse, run off and manure from the pad should be managed to protect the stream from pollution. These areas should be located at least 300 feet away from neighboring residences and away from wells. A manure management system should be designed to handle any accumulated manure on the pad.

More details on these options can be found in OSU Extension Bulletin 872: Maximizing Fall and Winter Grazing of Beef Cows and Stocker Cattle