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Reinkes are sold on winter bale grazing

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 10/16/2012 2:15 PM

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WADENA, Minn. — Ivan and Dayle Reinke are sold on winter bale grazing for their cattle.

For the Wadena farmers it has meant a 30 percent increase in soil fertility on their farm's sandy soils.

"But to make it work, you have to want to do it," said Ivan at a Pastures for Profitability field day on their farm. "You have to have a plan."

Ivan works for the NRCS and has seen a variety of grazing systems as he's worked with farmers in the area. For him, bale grazing in a rotational set up has been a good fit for the cattle and his land.

Before winter, he moves the bales into equally spaced rows thinking of the paddocks he will set up for the winter grazing. Setting it up before the snow flies is key, he said. Overall, with a plan, it will reduce labor and time to set the system up.

Besides the hay, the cattle will need some sort of protein and a windbreak or shelterbelt. They added a shelterbelt on their pastures three years ago and it made a big difference for the cattle, he said.

Even though the land they converted from CRP to pasture looks fairly flat, the cattle found their own natural shelter on raw winter days, Dayle said. She pointed to a swale where the cattle had gathered.

Water availability is a must. But cows also have legs, Ivan said. They can walk a quarter to half mile to get it. Some producers also said even with the water source, some cows may utilize the snow.

The must-haves include bales, a protein, water and a shelterbelt or windbreak, he said.

He likes to leave six-feet between the feeding areas.

Hay is the single biggest expense on the farm, said Kent Solberg, Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association livestock and grazing specialist. A rotational grazing system that could include winter bale grazing, cover crops or grass mixes, saves on labor and feed costs while providing a nutritional smorgasbord for the livestock.

The more frequent the paddock shifts, the greater benefits overall for the pasture, he said. Once a week is good and moving the cattle every third day is better than once a week. Some producers move their cattle up to six times a day. The increase in paddock shifts includes a daily herd check, he said.

"It's not possible to do too many herd checks," he said. "We do three paddock shifts a day on my farm, but there are places on the farm where I can't do that. The bottom line is that where we do have more paddock shifts, we are seeing greater pasture benefits."

He looks at stocking density and the number of animal pounds per acre.

Vegetation trampling is good for the soil and grasses and it helps disperse manure.

Adequate rest is also a must for the pastures. The length of a grazing period depends on the season, the temperature and the moisture.

Sometimes cutting and baling a paddock is needed.

But many grazers who bale hay may not look for a second, third or even fourth cutting of a forage. They will graze the land instead.

Some plant with a purpose and do strip grazing of swathed forages, he said. Small grains seeded with other forages like field peas provide an excellent meal. Animals will dig down to 16 inches of snow to get it, he said.

A harvested field can also turn into a grazing opportunity. Cattle can glean from a harvested area where corn once stood, he said.

In 2010 he grazed a harvested field using his yearling heifers over a six week period and figures he saved $48 a head in feed costs.

Seeded annuals like purpose top turnips can extend grazing.

"What to feed depends on what you grow," he said.

He grazed cattle on millet in 2011. He spent $30 an acre to plant it and, after 30 days of growth, he turned the cattle into the field. He grazed it twice and said it was great for the cows. There is not a chance for bloat on the millet but farmers should be mindful of prussic acid or nitrate poisoning. Grazers should wait a week after a frost before putting cattle on it.

Tom Bilek of Aldrich shared the production challenges he's faced due to the open winter and drought conditions. He experienced winterkill on his alfalfa and, when he planted peas, oats and radishes, the lack of rainfall resulted in the crop drying up. When it did that, he turned the cattle onto the field where they grazed on the variety of plants.

There is a learning curve with rotational grazing, but he's seen the benefits and options its given to his operation and the pastures.