Bale grazing is more than just a seasonal farming practice — it’s a holistic approach to sustainable land management that offers a range of benefits for both farmers and the environment.
Fall bale grazing has gained traction in recent years due to its benefits for livestock and soil, supporting a healthier ecosystem and more efficient farming practices. It involves strategically placing hay bales across grazing areas and allowing livestock to feed directly from the bales. Movable electric fencing restricts feeding to one bale and grazing area at a time.
Rather than transporting bales to temporary storage lots and then moving them again to feeding areas, ranchers and farmers can save significant time, work, and hay equipment costs by moving hay bales directly from field to pasture.
But the advantages of bale grazing extend far beyond labor efficiencies. Unlike traditional feeding methods, bale grazing enables animals to spread their manure as they graze, naturally fertilizing the soil. And by allowing animals to graze in smaller, managed areas, the land can recover from intensive grazing during the growing season, which promotes healthier vegetation in the long run.
With harvesting and baling hay season headed for the home stretch in many areas, it’s time to start setting up your pastures for bale grazing. Take note of the following considerations for successful bale grazing:
- 1. Quantity: Determine how many bales you’ll need for winter grazing so you don’t fall short. Start by calculating your livestock’s daily forage requirements and nutritional needs. Then, estimate the length of the grazing period and multiply the daily forage requirement by the number of days. This will give you a rough estimate of the total forage needed. But don’t forget to account for bale waste: Roughly 20% of each bale won’t be consumed, though that number will vary based on bale quality and animal behavior.
- 2. Location: Perennial pasture, hayland, and crop ground are all options for bale grazing locations. Bale grazing results in a concentration of nutrients in manure, so select a site that will benefit most from fertilization. Conversely, avoid placing bales where nutrients run off into streams and ponds. Also, remember that hay bales may be contaminated with weed seeds, so avoid bale grazing in areas where introducing weeds would be unwelcome.
- 3. Fencing: Movable electric fencing is the best way to corral livestock around each bale in a contained feeding area. A good strategy is to arrange bales in a grid, about 40 feet apart, to ensure even manure distribution and prevent overgrazing of other vegetation. Livestock typically graze in one area for two to three days before the bale is depleted. It’s time to move the fencing to the next grazing area. Each time you move the fence, it’s important to ensure cattle still have easy access to water.
Fall bale grazing offers a sustainable approach to land management that benefits farmers, livestock, and the environment. Farmers and ranchers can develop a successful bale grazing strategy with a little advanced planning in the fall with year-round benefits. If lack of equipment is the only thing holding you back from trying bale grazing, John Deere can help you find a dealer capable of providing the necessary equipment.