Bales part of grazing plan
While January means feeding bales on many cattle operations, John Lee Njos, who ranches with his family in the Badlands near Rhame, N.D., has worked to perfect having his cows and weaned heifer calves bale-graze through the winter instead.
With this strategy, Njos says, a tractor rarely needs to be started in the winter months. And, he notes that in just a few years, bale grazing has already increased the health and productivity of their fragile Badlands soils.
He says, “When you figure what you pay for fertilizer versus hay, bale grazing has a pretty high value.”
For the Njos family, the bale-grazing process starts in the fall when bales — most of which are purchased — are strategically placed on introduced pastures. Bales are placed about 25 to 30 feet apart. The Njoses aim to put out enough bales to feed the herd from January through March.
Njos notes, “We don’t put out all of our bales for grazing, because we don’t want any leftovers out there.”
They do keep a reserve of bales on hand, so if they are running short, in March and April they can place bales where they want the cattle to graze. Reserve bales are stored in rows facing north and south.
Njos says this is done because the snow usually blows that way, and it prevents the rows from being drifted over. About April 15, they begin calving.
Electric fencing to separate the bales is also set up in the fall. They aim to have the herd bale-graze an area for about three to five days — with access to about 17 to 20 bales for 240 head — before moving on to fresh bales.
Njos says a good rule of thumb is to offer about three bales for 200 head per day; thus, for five days that would be about 15 bales. If weather is extremely cold, he may add a few bales or roll out a bale of alfalfa to provide extra protein.
Njos prefers to use a light-weight aviation cable that can be electrified, because he’s learned that frost takes down the charge in polywire. Njos originally got his cable as “recycled” product from Canada, but says trade stipulations have made it difficult to get now.
Another tip: Njos believes the forage quality of the bale makes a difference in utilization. He has found if the energy in bales is 60% total digestible nutrients, cows will eat most of the bale and not leave much. However, when bales are 50% TDN, the cattle tend to leave more stems, or litter, on the ground.
Because that litter can add organic matter to the soil, Njos places the lower-quality bales on poorer soils. Since Njos purchases most of his hay, he strives to buy hay based on energy content, and pay accordingly for higher- or lower-quality hay.
Gordon writes from Whitewood, S.D.
This article published in the January, 2015 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.
Beef Herd Management