The Old Farmer’s Almanac has released their forecast for this winter. “Mild, with soakers” is how Kentucky and Indiana are labeled. I don’t put a lot of weight on these forecasts, but they often line up with other forecasts and occasionally are completely correct. If this forecast holds true, I think we all need to prepare for a winter similar to last year.
Most of us bank on dry or frozen ground for grazing stockpiled forage, and especially when you are grazing corn residue and or winter annuals. You don’t want compaction, but the wetter it is, the higher the possibility. Roots from cover crops and the freezing and thawing process can relieve some of this, but it does have to freeze to get all the benefits!
So, what can you do to prepare for the possibility of another long, wet muddy winter?
All livestock producers need a contingency plan for both summer and winter. First, look at your animal numbers. My advice is that ten percent of the herd should probably grow some wheels every year. You’re probably holding back some replacement heifers to maintain numbers anyway. As the late Gerald Fry would wisely say, “If you cull the ten percent you should be culling, the herd that’s left is just that much better.” A few open fat cows going down the road reduces winter feed needs and lighter cows will also do slightly less damage to the ground under wet conditions.
Second, just as there is a need for a dry lot in the summer during a drought to protect the pasture, a “winterized” dry lot is needed, especially in wet winters. Winter feeding areas are an absolute must for at least part of the season. Why? Because mud costs money. Livestock burn more energy in mud just by moving around. Increased energy needs increase your feed and feed costs. Feeding efficiently becomes more challenging and losses of hay and feed go up.
For this part of your contingency plan, I highly recommend a rock pad or Heavy Use Area Protection (HUAP) site. A HUAP site can be a huge blessing under wet conditions. After last winter, my wife declared we needed a whole lot more of them! (When you are five feet tall and sink down a foot into the mud, the cows look a whole lot bigger, or so she claims!)
I would much rather be feeding hay out on the pasture, unrolling it to spread out the hooves and nutrients, but when the ground is totally saturated, it’s just a muddy mess. I don’t like having to deal with the manure and leftovers the next spring, but I also don’t like to see pastures torn up and what it creates, which includes a grand opportunity for weeds in the spring.
Hay rings and hay feed wagons work much better on these rock pads. Without HUAP sites, and under wet conditions, the ground quickly becomes a deep mud soup around them and moving them becomes increasingly challenging. Without a pad, it is probably better to not use rings, but then waste goes up extravagantly.
Fence-line feeders surrounded with rock pads are an efficient way to feed all year round. They are usually designed with one side of the slanted feeding panel area open, so you can back in bales without needing to get in with the cows. You can almost feed hay in your Sunday best. You and the tractor stay away from the cows, no gate battling, and if your hay storage is nearby, life is good.
You may qualify for financial assistance to install a HUAP site through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist for more information. With or without cost-share, winter feeding pads are a good investment and are pretty simple to build. Locate and build them away from water bodies and where you can have easy access and good drainage and you’ll be ready for whatever winter brings.
I really don’t want to think about winter yet, but it’s best to be prepared. Keep on grazing! ~ Victor Shelton, excerpt from On Pasture. For this and more great articles, visit https://onpasture.com.