By Holly Stoltz
Are you asking, “how do I even start grazing in the winter?” Well, you’re in luck. Below is a list of easy-to-do steps to start a successful winter grazing program.
According to Cooper Hibbard from the Sieben Live Stock Ranch, you must start somewhere. “I recommend starting small – the smaller the pasture, the better, and the more frequent the moves, the better.”
Create a small window to fail
He recommends committing yourself to at least two or three days at the beginning of just being with your cows and moving them when they need to be moved instead of moving them on a schedule. This will create a much smaller window to fail and a better learning experience with a faster feedback loop.
During this time, move the animals 2-4 times a day, paying close attention to their behavior, forage, and the litter left. After you have a good grasp of when to move them, ratchet back the frequency to what fits your schedule – moving once a day or twice a week, etc.
Rick Caquelin, retired NRCS agent, recommends one note of consideration: to balance out the size of your paddock and herd density to your desired results. Have these benchmarks in place before you begin. When you are in this “observing” phase, your paddock sizes should be much smaller due to your frequency of moves. Then as you graduate into longer moves, you can increase the paddock size.
Peanut Butter or Molasses
That’s right. A trick of the trade if your animals are unfamiliar with electric fences is to “paint” the hot wire with either peanut butter or molasses. They will learn very quickly not to push the boundaries! This technique aside, you will prevent many headaches if you train your animals BEFORE starting your moves.
Observe, Observe, Observe!
The most important thing to remember is that you can’t learn if you’re not observing. After the initial days of training yourself, you must take the time to continue to observe. According to Rick, “Observation is the key to success. Watch your animal’s behavior and body condition closely to be sure you are not creating too much stress on them. Take the time to walk over the used paddock as you move the animals to ascertain you are leaving the amount of residue behind that you intended.”
Another important indicator of animal health is to look at their manure. You can determine if their food intake is low in protein or energy by what a cowpie looks like. Here is a great resource.
When in doubt, move them
From experience, Cooper reminds us never to move them when they are “hangry.” It creates unneeded stress on the animals and you. He also recommends that if you doubt whether the animals need to be moved, move them!
Lastly, Cooper wants you to remember, “deciding to winter graze takes commitment, dedication, showing up, and a willingness to learn (and make mistakes). But you also need to have fun with it!”
Be sure to sign up for one of Sieben Live Stock Winter Grazing Tours. The dates include January 19th, February 22nd, March 9th, and April 5th. To register, click here.