When temperatures dropped in mid-December, we moved the cows closer to home where they had more shelter and were easier to access with feed. But as the weather has warmed up again we moved the cows back to native pasture to graze for another week or so.
There was additional help as family came to visit over the holidays. It also gave some of the crew an excuse to get out of the house and get some fresh air.
Why winter grazing?
The native pasture has cured, but there is plenty of it under the snow. Cured native grass can have a nutrient value similar to straw (3% protein and 40-45% TDN). Straw has a higher NDF value (Neutral Detergent Fibre is an indicator of relatively indigestible material – lignin, cellulose and hemi-cellulose), which limits the amount of feed a cow will consume. The lower NDF in native grass will allow a cow to consume more pounds than straw even though they have similar energy content. But it needs a protein supplement, which they are getting with some second cut hay (fed at around 10 lbs per day at 20% protein provides about 2 lbs of additional protein). This protein helps balance the rumen bacteria (which needs about 8% protein) so the cow can actually consume more feed to maintain body condition throughout the winter. The goal is a balanced ration not just total nutrients provided. The cows are also provided with a free choice mineral mix targeted at 2-3 ounces per day to provide copper, zinc, manganese, vitamin A.
A disadvantage is that it takes more time and labour to supplement on pasture. We use hay as a supplement versus something like pellets because it takes time for all the cows out grazing to come to the truck. Hay takes time to eat and there is a better chance of all the cows getting their share. In contrast if using pellets or grain a boss cow could get 3 cows share before the others arrived.
Another benefit of winter grazing is it keeps the manure on the land. In fact our cows are on pasture year round so that we don’t have to haul manure.
Cows in western Canada develop a thick winter hair coat that protects from them cold temperatures quit nicely throughout the winter. But wind can be a challenge. Wind along with cold temperatures increase a cows nutritional requirements. So they will only stay out where there is limited shelter while it stays nice. Portable wind breaks can help but they also trap snow and are not always accessible. So when temperatures drop again the cows will get moved to a location with more shelter where they are more accessible for the feed truck.