By Jerry Volesky
Grazing stockpiled winter range or pastures has several benefits. It is much less costly compared to feeding hay. On native range, there is little risk of damage to the grasses because they are dormant and winter stocking rates can be somewhat higher compared to the summer. Often times, you will notice that native pastures only grazed during the winter are the most vigorous and productive.
It is important though, that you closely monitor body condition of the cows during the winter grazing period. Crude protein is generally the most limiting nutrient during winter grazing. The crude protein content of dormant warm-season grasses will be around 5 to 7%, and will slowly decline through the winter months from weathering and as the cattle selectively grazing the higher quality forage in a pasture.
Stockpiled cool-season grass pastures are those that have been only lightly or not grazed during the growing season. These pastures may have slightly higher crude protein levels, but that quality will also decline as the winter progresses. Feeding the right amount of protein supplement while winter grazing will allow the cows to effectively utilize that winter forage and maintain the desired body condition.
A possible grazing management strategy that can be used is to do simple rotational grazing where cattle are periodically moved to a new winter pasture. This will allow for a more consistent diet quality when winter grazing.
Whatever your strategy, though, consider carefully what kind of nutrition animals are getting from the pasture so you neither underfeed nor overfeed expensive supplements. And be sure to provide salt, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A free choice at all times.
Winter grazing is a great opportunity to reduce winter feed costs. With proper management, it can help you meet many of your feeding goals.