It’s only mid-summer, but it’s not too early for beef producers to plan ahead for fall grazing with their cattle herds.
In Saskatchewan, we produce massive amounts of straw and chaff each year after combining. Field grazing of these residues can provide very economical nutrition for beef cows during the fall and winter months.
When annual crops are grown and harvested for seed, the crop residue is essentially a by-product generated at no extra cost. The cheapest and easiest method of using these residues as cattle feed is field piling or field collection with an attachment on the combine, followed by field grazing.
A manufacturer in Alberta has taken the concept of crop residue bunching to a new level by inventing a tool called the “Whole Buncher.” The device looks somewhat like a giant pitchfork attached to the back of a combine. It collects the chaff and straw and dumps the material in piles approximately three feet high, four feet wide, and five feet long. The unit trips automatically and resets back into place with a counter balance weight.
Lorne Klein, a Forage Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF), says the device offers a unique spin on the idea of using harvest remnants for feeding cattle. “Instead of the crop residue being baled and hauled to the cattle, the piles are left in the field for the livestock to graze on during fall and winter,” Klein explained.
“This reduces the amount of fuel that would ordinarily need to be burned in the feed production process. As a result, it’s a much ‘greener’ approach, and it reduces the input costs to the farmer.”
Klein points out that a producer in Saskatchewan has taken the same concept and built a unit to collect the chaff only. The chaff piles are approximately one foot high, four feet wide, and three feet long.
During fall and winter, the crop residue piles can be grazed exclusively or supplemented depending on the feed quality and the nutritional requirements of the cows. If the piles are properly managed and cleaned up, there is no problem with any residual field trash causing difficulties during seeding the following spring.
But Klein says there are a few considerations that farmers need to take into account before moving to a feeding system that includes crop residue grazing.
First, since cattle will be turned out to graze, the fields will need to be fenced, at least temporarily. “An electric fence is usually a low-cost option,” he noted.
Second, the field will require a water source. However, Klein says that, under the right conditions, snow can serve as an alternative source of water on fields without a creek, dugout or well. “It’s been scientifically proven that cows that have been properly conditioned can survive on snow, provided you have at least three to four inches of it and it’s relatively soft.”
Third, some form of shelter will be needed to protect the animals from high winds if they are to graze there through cold weather. Shelter can take the form of natural barriers like bushes, trees or a creek area, or a portable windbreak that the farmer puts up for protection.