This segment in the Soil Health, A Montana
Perspective video series will discuss one of the tools that agricultural producers can
use to improve soil health. This tool is bale grazing.
Bale grazing can be a useful tool to build soil health while saving you money and time.
Let’s take a look at why you would want to use bale grazing, how bale grazing works,
and why bale grazing can improve your operation. We used to live 10 miles away from where we
would feed at. And so instead of having to drive out every day, 10 miles one way, save,
save some gas. And also it was a way to get some nutrients back in the soils.
You need to set out hay bales for the number of days you want to feed for. This could be
anywhere from 3 to 4 day intervals or longer. You know, if normally you feed five bales
a day, I’d go out on a Saturday and put out 35 bales for the week.
Depending on hay quality, you may need to mix high and low quality hay to provide adequate
nutrition. If you feed two different qualities of hay make sure to put enough of the good
quality hay out so all the animals have a chance at it.
Be careful with the type of hay and where you are feeding it, as you will probably get
plants growing from the type of hay you feed. Bales should be spaced so that manure and
urine are spread out evenly over the bale grazing area.
You can also set all your bales out before winter starts and move electric fence once
a week to limit the access to the bales. Or, you can leave the bales where they fall or
drop out of the baler and move electric fence in between them.
Bale grazing can be used to repair degraded, unproductive pastures, hard pan spots, or
eroded land. The added nutrients from the cows and leftover hay lead to improvements
in grass quality and quantity. Some of these pastures have been overgrazed
and overstocked, weed problems, things like that. We’ve actually started bale grazing
and feeding our yearlings in small paddocks on them in the wintertime. And we’re finding
a huge turn-around. We’re adding, basically, adding that manure. And we’re adding organic
matter back to the soil, and cover to the soil. And letting the, basically, the rangeland’s
kind of healing itself that way then. Most of the stuff we’re feeding on is old
CRP that, you know, is not real great as far as productivity. Um, so we’ll feed on those
areas. The first year I kind of spread it out to see if there was going to be a difference
in those areas. And there was a huge difference on them.
Some producers think that cows will waste hay by laying on it, but cows will often come
back 2 to 3 weeks later and clean up some of the uneaten hay.
Waste is not waste. Ah, the stuff that’s left over is, is nutrients and food for the soil.
Food for the organisms, all that, the little herd that’s underneath the soil.
Hay left on the soil is both food and cover for the numerous microbes that make soil function,
allowing it to infiltrate and store water; cycle nutrients; grow healthier, more productive
plants; and ultimately make you more money by being able to run more cows on the same
number of acres. Ah, we run all the cows together in the wintertime,
the 2-year-old first-calf heifers, with, along with the normal-age running cows, um, short-term
cows. We even threw the bulls back out there during the wintertime just so we didn’t have
to mess with them, feeding them separate. They all came through super. They did great.
They were probably the best condition after winter that we’ve had.
Our bale grazing is primarily trying to build soil health. And it doesn’t hurt the cattle.
It doesn’t, sometimes I think it helps the cattle because they’re, they’ll come in and
eat all their feed, but it seems like they’re not waiting every day at a gate, waiting for
feed to get there. When they’re out of feed after their few days or whatever it is, they’ll
go out and forage. Bale grazing can offer significant benefits
if used correctly. Bale grazing can save you money through reduced
fuel use; and also provide you some flexibility in winter feeding. It can save you time.
Cows seem healthier and more content. Also, you don’t have the water quality issue to
worry about from the runoff that occurs when you feed in a lot. But most importantly, it
can build healthy soils through better utilization of manure and urine. Whatever hay is left
behind will enhance the soil’s productivity the following season and for years after that.
For more information about soil health and bale grazing visit your local USDA Service
Center or go to www.nrcs.usda.gov.