Is Bale Grazing a Solution for Last Year’s Mud?

Winter feeding areas for beef cattle were quagmires of mud that I cannot get out of my head. These muddy areas turned into to this year’s crabgrass-ragweed pastures. Are we destined to repeat this scenario? If nothing changes, probably so.

Bale grazing may be a practice worth considering to help address the issues of mud. Depending on your conditions, it might even save money in the process.

Bale grazing is the practice of putting out bales in the fall for feeding later on in the winter. These bales are spaced so they can be allocated using temporary electric fencing and portable hay rings. This practice has been used for years in areas further north.

bale grazing

Setting out bales now for winter feeding is a technique known as bale grazing. Fred Thomas has been using bale grazing on his Adair County farm, shown in this aerial photograph. Bale grazing can reduce mud, save time and even improve soil fertility. Although not perfect, it may be a way to reduce last year’s winter mud.

The advantages of bale grazing include less traffic damage due to moving hay across saturated access points, spacing out the hoof damage across a greater area, improving soil fertility and organic matter, reducing mud and lessening runoff of nutrients into streams and ponds. The negatives include the potential of having to reseed larger areas of ground and the need for large areas of upland well drained soils to feed on.

Fred Thomas in Adair County has been using bale grazing for a few years. He has seen an improvement in soil fertility from bale grazing and spends a lot less time on a tractor in the bitter weather of winter. In fact, Fred knows that he saves $30 per month by not having to keep his tractor block heater on during the winter.

Fred Thomas placed bales 50 feet apart the first year, and needed to reseed the area completely. He used this as an opportunity to reseed novel endophyte tall fescue the following fall after growing a crop of sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass. No additional fertility was needed for the summer grazing due to the nutrients left behind from bale grazing. Thomas is planning for more space between bales (150 feet) this winter to lessen the forage damage.

Before and after soil tests showed Thomas improved both his P and K status of the areas where he bale grazed, especially the K. Roy figures that Thomas saved at least $20 per acre in fertilizer costs due to one winter of bale grazing.

Here are some tips for bale grazing:

  • Locate bales on well drained soils
  • Keep bales away from surface water and creeks
  • Allocate about 1 bale per 10 cows per feeding so each has room to eat
  • Limit bale feeding time to about 3 days per spot
  • Be prepared to reseed in spring
  • High quality hay will work better because animals clean it up and leave less residual to limit grass growth next spring.

Bale grazing might not be right for you, but it is an intriguing option. Happy foraging. ~ Dr. Jimmy Henning, Farmer’s Pride Sept.