Extending the Grazing Scene this Fall and Winter

By Emily Potter, Project Assistant for Beef North

Beef farming in Northern Ontario is highly dependent on pasture and forage systems. Here are a few tips and tricks for extending your grazing season in the north during the fall and winter.

Swath Grazing:

Cattle can graze annual crops in a swath during the winter. Using swath grazing can decrease the cost of keeping a cow over the winter by 40%. Barley or oats can work well for swath grazing, and are usually cut just before the soft dough stage in mid-September. Cattle are usually put out on the swaths in November and can remain there until a few weeks before calving, depending on how much feed there is. The cattle should be given enough for 2-3 days at a time.

It's important to ensure that the snow doesn't get so deep that the cattle can't dig through to reach the swaths. This can be managed by ensuring that only enough swaths are cut and left to last the cattle until snow gets too deep.

Corn grazing:

Cattle can graze unharvested corn in the winter, but they should only be given a few rows at a time because they will eat the corn cobs first. Limiting their access will help to prevent the cattle from binge-eating the corn and getting acidosis and bloating.

Stockpile Grazing:

Stockpile grazing is when regrowth on hay fields or pastures is left for grazing in the fall and early winter. A good mix for stockpile grazing would be meadow brome with 40-50% alfalfa as a protein source. It's best to use stockpile grazing systems before the fields are covered with snow, and cattle should be moved every couple of days.

Bale Grazing:

Bale grazing can reduce the need to move and stack hay bales, which reduces fuel costs. It also helps to spread out manure across the field, which can improve the forage production in the next season. Setting the bales on their sides can help to reduce wastage.

Other tips:

In all systems, electrical temporary fencing can make managing the cattle easier and can make the feed last longer. Also, a windbreak should be provided to reduce exposure and prevent body condition score losses. It's important to monitor the body condition score of cattle while using extended grazing practices to ensure the feed provided is meeting their requirements and not affecting their performance.

Did you know? Snow can make for a good water source for dry cattle, as long as the snow stays fluffy enough and doesn't become crusted. An additional water source should be provided if using extended grazing practices for bred heifers or lactating cows.


The information in this blog post came from the following sources, where you can find more on extended grazing practices:

Beef Cattle Research Council: Extended Grazing

                                                    Snow as a Water Source

OMAFRA: Stockpiling Perennial Forages for Fall and Winter Beef Cow Grazing

Bale Grazing Beef Cows

Beef: Turn Corn Stover to Low Cost Pastures

Forages and Pastures



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