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Annual crops are swath-grazing options

Agriculture.com Staff 01/18/2010 @ 9:24am

Swath grazing annual crops in fall and winter can save 24¢ per cow per day in feed costs, according to the results of the first phase of a study at the ARS Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, North Dakota.

The annual swath grazing period for the study, now in its second phase, spans about 140 days, running from mid-September through early February.

In the researchers' system, grazing three crops in sequence is key to sustaining swath grazing through the winter. Starting in mid-September or later, cow-calf pairs graze forage oats swathed at the dough stage in August.

The oat swaths contain 8% crude protein (CP) and 55% total digestible nutrients (TDN). The oat crop produces nearly 5,500 pounds of dry matter per acre.

In November, after calves are weaned, cows graze swaths of corn residue. The residue contains 4.5% CP and 52% TDN. The researchers supplement the corn residue with peas, feeding 1 to 2 pounds per cow per day. Cows gain 2.5 pounds per head per day on the diet of corn residue and peas.

At corn planting, every seventh row is skipped. The extra spacing between rows gives cows a place to lie down, and it provides a trough-like shelter for the light corn residue, which is prone to blowing in the wind.

"For the last 2 years, we have been able to get about 40 days of grazing from the corn residue, stocking it a rate of .62 acres per cow," says ARS animal scientist Eric Scholljegerdes.

In mid-December, cows start grazing sorghum sudan swathed after the first killing frost. The sudan contains 6% CP and 55% TDN. Like the oats, it produces 5,500 pounds of dry matter per acre.

The sudan is particularly well suited to swath grazing after snow starts to accumulate. "The sorghum sudan makes a fluffy windrow," says Scholljegerdes. "When we cut it, we leave 8 to 10 inches of stubble, so the fluffy swath sits up off the ground, making it easier for the cattle to graze if there's snow on the swath."

Before grazing swaths, consider testing forages if growing conditions, such as drought or killing frost, were optimum for concentrating toxic levels of nitrates and prussic acid in plants.

Swath grazing annual crops in fall and winter can save 24¢ per cow per day in feed costs, according to the results of the first phase of a study at the ARS Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, North Dakota.

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