With feed cost being a top expense for many producers, one cost reducing option to consider is windrow grazing.
Let’s look at the advantages and challenges of implementing this practice in your operation.
Windrow grazing occupies a gray area between haying and grazing forages. When done correctly, it provides the best of both worlds, allowing harvest to occur at the optimal time for yield and quality, while eliminating the cost and labor of baling, storing, and feeding hay. Properly cured, windrows can be grazed through the fall and winter, maintaining quality similar to stored round bales.
With less than 25% of precipitation in Nebraska occurring between October and March, fall harvesting forages face less pressure from weather. While windrow grazing can be practiced successfully state wide, central and western Nebraska may see better results due to an overall cooler and drier climate.
Along with climate, construction of the windrow will also aid in success. Thinner stemmed grass species fit best for this system including cool season grains like oats, triticale, barley, and wheat, and warm season annuals like foxtail millet and sudangrass. A high, dense windrow is less susceptible to weathering loss. If forage yields are less than 1.5 tons/acre, consider raking two windrows together. Swath rows parallel to prevailing winds to keep blowing to a minimum and cut high to leave stubble the windrow can sit on, keeping it off of the ground.
When it comes time to use, portion off a section of field with temporary fence running perpendicular to the windrow. Start with providing one week’s worth of feed, then adjust the allotment to provide more or less as necessary. Even under snow, a well-built windrow will be easily accessed by cattle.
While best suited for the climate of central and western Nebraska, windrow grazing can be practiced statewide. To be successful, harvest in the fall for reduced weathering, build a dense windrow, and limit feed with temporary fence.
By Ben Beckman
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