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Extending the Grazing Season Has Its Benefits

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
September 16, 2015

Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Extending the Grazing Season Has Its Benefits
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (09/16/15) — Research has found that producers who graze cattle longer during the year had lower costs of production compared to producers who fed more stored or purchased feed.  So, the longer your animals are out on pasture harvesting their own forage, the greater the opportunity to keep your production costs down.  Two options to extend your grazing season are utilizing alfalfa regrowth or feeding corn residues. The following information is from Greg Cuomo, Dennis Johnson, and Bill Head of the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris.

Alfalfa is a great option for high quality forage in fall, as it is widely grown and already available on many farms. Normally, it is recommended that alfalfa be grazed in fall only after it goes dormant. However, research is being conducted on the effect of grazing alfalfa through fall. Preliminary observations imply that moderate fall grazing does not stress plants as much as cutting for hay. Therefore, the risk of winter injury may be less when grazed in fall than when cut for hay.

Besides grazing alfalfa regrowth, you can also use corn residues.  The corn, husks, and leaves left in the field after corn harvest can make great forage in fall. Forage quality of corn residues is generally not high enough to meet the nutritional needs of lactating or growing animals, but can adequately maintain dry pregnant cows. Grazing corn residues can be one of the lowest cost methods of providing forage. Strip grazing will make for more efficient use of corn residues.

With any fall grazing strategy in Minnesota, one risk is that snow may make fall forage inaccessible. You may have enough stockpiled grasses, alfalfa regrowth, and corn stalks available for grazing until April; however, a thick blanket of snow can ruin plans for fall pasturing. The key is to be flexible. Obviously, it is unrealistic to expect to graze through winter every year in Minnesota. However, there are many opportunities to keep animals out on pasture through October and November.

As you begin to plan your feeding program for the rest of the year, consider the economic advantages of extending your grazing season.  Keeping your cattle on pasture, harvest their own forage, will help reduce your production costs.



Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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