Bale Grazing

By: Heather Smith Thomas

“I bale-graze to reduce labor and equipment costs,” says Kenyon. The bonus is free fertilizer. Bale grazing concentrates cattle where they’re eating, and you gradually move the manure deposits across the field as you let them into the next row of bales.

He often custom-feeds other rancher’s cattle. “Right now, I’m bale-grazing 366 bred heifers, giving them 20 to 26 bales each time, which lasts 3 to 4 days,” says Kenyon. He moves the fence twice a week–about an hour’s labor per week to feed them.

Cows don’t get to move until they’ve cleaned up most of the hay in the section they’re bale grazing. “They’re rationed at so many pounds per head per day, and if they eat 3 days worth of feed in 2 days, on that last day they may have to eat a little grass or pick through the residue, and make do. But if weather gets bad or temperature drops, you have to move them sooner,” says Kenyon.

“The key to reducing winter feeding cost is bale grazing. I’ve seen yardage costs from 50 cents per head per day, up to $1.75 per head per day—and that’s just the cost of feeding, before you add the cost of feed. Most people don’t consider all the labor they’re putting into it. The average cost right now in Alberta is between 70 and 75 cents per head per day. You can drop that to 10 cents or less by bale grazing.”

In contrast to going out every day for an hour to feed cows, he goes out in the fall and gets the pasture set up for bale grazing. Bales are delivered to the pasture instead of a hay yard. It takes a little time to spread the bales around but you can do it in good weather at your convenience. He recommends flipping the bales upright, and removing the twines.

“I can pull twines off at 42 bales per hour, in the fall. Compare that to the time and frustration trying to remove twine from frozen bales. In the fall, pulling twine off 1000 bales is a boring job, but you can do it when it’s warm.”

He starts moving a fence down the field when he puts cattle there to bale-graze. He uses a single strand electric wire with step-in pigtail posts hammered into the frozen ground just enough to make them stand up. To get them out of the ground to move them, he merely twists and they pull out easily.

Some people stick posts into the next row of bales, rather than pounding them into frozen ground. “I came up with this idea about 6 years ago, and it works well. But I don’t use this method anymore because those posts are too heavy to carry,” says Kenyon.

For those posts he used an 8-foot piece of rebar and a pigtail offset attached to it. “If you use a 4-foot regular post, it’s too close to the bale and some cows will reach the bale,” he explains. If a few cows start reaching and eating on the new row of bales, the others crowd around and soon the fence is torn down—and they’re into the next row of bales too soon.

“I now prefer to use short pigtail posts pounded into the ground. They’re a lot lighter and easier to carry,” says Kenyon. He uses two fences, and leapfrogs the fences down the field. This creates a buffer zone so he can move the fence nearest the cows and have the second fence to contain them.

“You need a back-up fence, because you always have to take one down before you put it back up again. And if a cow gets through the first one, the second fence contains her,” he explains.

The extra benefit of bale grazing is fertilizer. “I value every day that I have a cow being fed on my property with imported feed. I have a net gain on my farm (in value of fertilizer) of 30 cents per head per day. Having manure on a field will easily double its production,” he says.

“All the organic matter—wasted hay and manure–improves water-holding capacity of the soil and will improve production for about 5 years. Though it’s a fast way to improve a pasture, you generally cover only one pasture per winter. I try to bale-graze a different field every year, to improve it for the next several years.”      ©

For more information about his bale grazing methods, and the mobile school and seminars he conducts: www.greenerpasturesgrazing.com

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