Are there any grass-fed/only cattle operations here in Ontario doing year round grazing? I’ve only ever heard or seen it out West and I’m curious to know if it’s possible to do here. I’ve been told that it’s very difficult due to our type of winter
I haven’t been able to get past mid-December when the ground gets too saturated and/or watering cattle becomes the issue. I love to hear from anyone who has figured out how to handle mud!
Read plenty of other places doing it and one thing that we’ve been working on for several years is a more moderate mature cow weight. Smaller cows = less punching through the sod.
Great discussion topic. I’m also keen to hear folks who have been successful extending the grazing season on either end of winter (later into winter or earlier start in spring).
We are only entering year 2 here so take whatever I say with that grain of salt. We have 12 breeding cows with calves for a total of around 30 animals. We are grazing 50 acres.
Using rotational grazing on the tired pastures we acquired, we were able to take grazing to November 15 in 2016 and December 1 for 2017. However I wasn’t completely satisfied with the condition of the cows in 2017, as I would like them to be fatter going in to winter. (By the way, I didn’t see any evidence of delayed return of grass in spring 2017; however we were leaving about a 4 inch residual (I know we should have left 6 inches).
It’s my goal to graze as much of the year as possible so pasture renovation is the next step.
My current plan is the following, and I would welcome feedback from other people who probably have a way better idea how to do these things.
Renovate about 10 acres per year by winter bale grazing, spreading the hay and manure as evenly as possible across that 10 acres. Harrowing probably necessary in spring. Note this does involve some pugging even though we have small framed cattle (purebred Dexters, 900-1000 pound cows). But that’s part of the plan since the pasture is being renovated. I have some guilty conscience about soil compaction and am not sure if this is the optimal solution compared to feeding in the barnyard for March-April. A grey area.
Year 1, till only narrow strips and plant brassicas and forage peas, and maybe some oats to fill in gaps. I want late maturing varieties since won’t be putting cows in until August crunch time, then again in October.
Year 2, plant longer term winter forage mix. I think something like 40% Tall fescue, 30% brome, 20% frosty clover (or trefoil if wetter field), 10% milk vetch.
Repeat cycle every five years. In this way the farm would be converted to more of a winter-grazing farm and I could rent neighbouring fieldsto graze if I want to stockpile our own pastures for winter.
Who knows how long we could push grazing? Definitely limited by thaw/freeze here in Ontario when shorter grasses covered in hard ice. So would be more realistic to aim for, say, 3/5 years grazing until end of February, then bale grazing.
Also, on the higher or drier fields I might try different seed mixes for early spring (e.g. annual winter rye).
Will enjoy any feedback or discussion on this.
100% of our farm is prenial pasture. We graze yearling stocker calves from May to November and have a flock of sheep that are out all year. The Sheep are supplemented with hay for around 120 days a year. We have a short growing season compared to most of southern Ontario. The extra productivity we see from our grazing management and winter feeding program has been extreme. D
Mike Buis down by Chatham grazes his Beef outdoors throughout the Winter. Check out some info on his website (buisbeef.ca/news.html) and here is a youtube video where he describes his operation (https://youtu.be/o2uBcU8qNoU)
Granted, Chatham might deal with a lot less snow than you - but i’m pretty sure Gabe Brown deals with some serious snow out in North Dakota and makes it work.
Gabe Brown has an unfair advantage - he only gets about 12 inch of precipitation! (or something like that) He also gets cold and stays very cold. Our challenges are the freeze / thaw, rain (like Feb this year - that was awful), ice layers, which makes it challenging to keep grazing. That’s why things like swath grazing work out west but not real well here…
We use to graze standing corn all winter, which worked well, however being 100% grassfed this hasn’t been an option for me for a long time now. Grazing corn stalks etc like Buis works if you have or can find them (and don’t care about gmo / roundup and the corn…).
I think stockpiling fescue mix is probably the best bet for winter grazing (grass-fed option), fall rye & harry vetch could work (like Gabe does), just would like to see how it stands up in our climate.
My cattle are outside all year round (~40+ breeding females +yearlings and two year olds), I bale graze for pasture regeneration in the winter. @arthur.churchyard don’t bother harrowing, worrying about compaction, strip till, etc., assuming you aren’t completely on wet/low land and/or heavy clay. Just bale graze and make them clean it up a bit every ~3 days or so the leftover piles aren’t too deep, frost seed some legumes (grass maybe) in spring and let the site rest until late July - August. Fantastic results for me. You’d need a good chunk of cows to cover 10 acres in one year though. My 60-80 head cover about 5-6 acres a winter.
Great tips, thanks David!
Here is an idea for you (Arthur), to help build up your stockpiled forage for the winter, and it is something I want to try, but I’ll need more then the 4 cattle I have now! You could rent (or borrow) some land from a neighbour after they get their wheat off and offer to plant a cover crop for them, then graze it through the fall. With the root mass underground and the cattle manure and urine on top, the field should be extra fertile for next springs crop. I think this could actually become something your neighbours might be willing to pay you for, only after years of positive results of course!
DISCLAIMER: I’m in just my second year with only six beef cows. Certified organic 100% grass-fed in Grey county.
Species for stockpiling: Laura Paine’s presentation at the 2015 EFAO conference recommended tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass as the best species for stockpile grazing (she’s from Wisconsin). Be sure to get endophyte-free cultivars of those two species for grazing. OMAFRA wrote an article on stockpile grazing that also suggested timothy: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/beef/news/vbn0712a3.htm
My sense is that (agro-ecologically) animals’ metabolisms are primarily trying to survive over winter, so calories (grasses) are far more important for stockpile grazing than protein (legumes). Having said that, birdsfoot trefoil is good for stockpiling since I’ve read the leaves don’t shed in winter. I think Grass-fed Cattle by Julius Ruechel says there is negligible bloat risk in stockpile grazing alfalfa. I’ve seen people out west talking about milk vetch but I’ve only seen hairy vetch for sale here; hairy vetch does best in an August planting, so I don’t find it a great fit with the other species.
Over-seeding: I don’t frost seed because 1) I am emphasizing grasses and they only have 20% to 30% catch frost seeding, and 2) my herd is there until May so I miss the frost seeding window (which looks like it will be tomorrow or Tuesday this year, which is a couple weeks later than last year). OMAFRA’s frost seeding fact sheet: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/98-071.htm
Bale grazing: I had fabulous results from bale grazing on my high sandy soils. I feed them with a round bale feeder and get optimal coverage moving it about 8m centre-to-centre with every bale. This year I will try overseeding the bale grazed area (and sacrificial paddock).
NEWBIE WARNING (especially if you are rehabilitating depleted soil by rotationally grazing): I’m rehabilitating depleted soil and I found my herd need 1/10 the stocking rates that were suggested to me, i.e. my herd is grazing 10 times more land than reading led me to expect. Also try to get the herd out leaving 6" but no less than 4" and monitor your regrowth after grazing.
RULE OF THUMB: The Ontario beef cattle farmers I’ve talked with who DON’T think about stockpile grazing seem to target 180 days of hay per winter. I’m hoping to eventually shrink my winter hay to mid-December through mid-April; about 120 days.
Thanks @violet.reidtaylor for starting an excellent topic. Enjoying learning about everyone’s thoughts and experiences.
Hi Folks! We just finished our second year of bale grazing over the winter in Northern Ontario…so by no means experts but certainly can offer our insights so far in a region with lots of snow, cold, rain mid-winter and a shorter “summer” grazing season than down south.The pastures we have were seriously neglected for 40+ years (hay taken off most years, nothing put back, some shrubs coming in etc). I occasionally throw bales in during other seasons to smother areas with shrubs as well. Our pastures are not tile drained and we have heavy clay soil. Results have been remarkable from all aspects…lush green growth in early spring (while the rest of the pastures are still yellow basically), sites seem to drain better and most of the cattle seem to have kept their condition quite well (we have Dexters and a few Black Angus). The herd has had access to some spruce bush as well (and in the worst weather I have fed them in that area - think wet, rainy followed by -30 C)…the impact in these areas has been no less substantial from an aesthetic POV…anyway our system seems to be working quite well, we even had 4 calves from January to March (completely outdoors), which I’m told is rather remarkable from some seasoned cattle folks up here. Not saying that has anything to do with bale grazing, but as our herd is adapting to 365 outdoors/in the field, we like were the genetics are going. I can’t say enough about the impacts on the fields. That being said, as we brought in our first head for slaughter, we weren’t 100% satisfied with the end product. Now this has more to do with finishing than anything, but we are at the mercy of sub-standard quality pastures still (it will take 5-6 years to get the right mixes and quality of forages in there by my estimates), and we don’t do our own haying so managing the quality of hay is also out of our control to a certain degree. Based on this, we decided this spring to add a pea/barley/oats ration in an attempt to improve carcass quality. Cattle condition have improved moreso than last spring, but until we harvest the first head later this summer, I can’t say whether or not this has worked strictly from a quality/taste standpoint.
Nonetheless, we will certainly not stop with the bale grazing in the winter, strictly from a standpoint of improving the land we have, it is well worth it. Whether we stick with the grain ration longer term or not has yet to be decided - quality and taste of our end product will guide that more than anything - but this will not have an impact on our grazing strategy either. Ideally the improved pastures results in the ability to grow our herd and reduce any supplemental grain feeding during the “summer” grazing period (basically June to Oct up here…).
Economically, I had attended a grazing school with Steve Kenyon last year, and he provided a very detailed economic analysis strategy to work off of. I haven’t used that to it’s full potential, but have certainly been tracking some aspects of what we are doing. Not having to stockpile/spread manure is one major savings, and with 100% of the residue and manure staying in the fields, that added benefit is still hard to quantify. Fencing needs more attention as winter up here can reduce the effectiveness of electric (we went with a ground/hot system this year to make up for that). Watering can be a challenge and although they do fine provided there is lots of softer snow on the ground, we tended to make sure they were watered frequently anyway, which has it’s labour requirements (and for us, adding water lines 6 feet deep and frost free hydrants several hundred feet away from the home). While we are likely adding a modest “finishing” yard with a shelter, this will be far less expensive and elaborate than traditional barns used to house beef cattle that I have seen across our region.
All in all this is a system that can work, and work well in most areas of this province…it does take a bit of research and planning, but at least for us it has been well worth it.
When you dig those six foot deep water lines, consider a Thermosink for winter water: thermosink.com. I’ve just been through my first winter with mine (in Grey county so much south of you) and love it for cattle winter water: no concrete required, no electricity, no ball valve to freeze with slobber (unlike Ritchie and Miraco low-energy and zero-energy waterers). I needed a hammer to break the surface ice when the wind chill was below -30C, but otherwise just stomp and remove the surface ice each morning.