Figuring out the forage

If you are looking to feed less hay when next winter rolls around, now is the time to evaluate your forage and hay program. Stockpiling grass could be one alternative to not only lessen the amount of hay needed to feed over the winter, but also to reduce your farm expenses.

To stockpile, let grass grow in the fall without grazing it until all grass has ceased growing for the winter. Stockpiling requires more land per animal, so adding it to an existing operation without additional available land may require intensified grazing management or herd reduction.

Unpublished research from the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center in the 1990s demonstrated winter stockpiling required about 50% more pasture area than land grazed during the growing season.

Strip grazing with an electric fence is necessary to effectively use winter stockpile forage. Animals should have access to only the amount of forage they need each day or they will trample the dormant grass, reducing grazing days.

Consider a cost comparison of stockpiled forage systems and hay based on dry-matter consumption per day and yield assumptions.

The chart below outlines the cost of raised hay per head per day for feeding the cow for 120 days, purchasing hay for 120 days, and raising hay for 30 days — on surplus spring growth — and stockpiling for 90 days.

Relative cost compared to 120 days of raised hay

Raised hay calculated to $1.08 per head per day, while purchased hay costs were 50% more, at $1.64 per head per day. Winter stockpile costs were 25% less than the raised hay costs.

Pasture rent for this example, at $40 per acre, included 60 percent more land area for the stockpile examples. The price of a 1,000-pound bale of hay was $35 per bale. The cost of equipment and fertilizer was $25 per bale. Every cow consumed 80 percent of the 30 pounds per day dry matter delivered, but the hay consumption also suffered an additional 20 percent loss due to waste.

While stockpiling may not be for every operation, this example provides a cost-effective alternative for winter-feeding.

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