There’s a lot to consider when developing a maintenance plan for your pastures over winter, says Extension Educator Laura Kenny with Penn State Extension. Though Laura’s emphasis is equine, much of what she has to say applies to livestock across the board (https://tinyurl.com/3b94t37b).
Though some can’t help it due to a lack of barn space, she argues it’s best when possible to keep your animals off of pasture lands during winter. “The grass is not growing, but they [horses] continue to nibble everything down to the ground,” she said. “In addition, your horses’ hooves slice through the soil in wet conditions, damaging root systems and further slowing spring recovery.”
When necessary to pasture your animals during winter, choose carefully. Utilize “well drained pastures. If there is insufficient suitable land area, consider using a sacrificial paddock and supplementing forage during this time” (Iowa State Ext., https://tinyurl.com/vx2dwa78).
When possible, your pastures will benefit from undisturbed snow cover.
There is a certain amount of privilege there that may not be afforded to other operations – some may not have a choice but to graze over the winter months to allay feed and hay costs – and we do have to consider that not everyone agrees with the same approach, from a herdsman’s point of view.
When evaluating approach, you as owner/manager just have to assess what your priorities are for the year – for your nutritional program and animal health, for your soil and most importantly for your budget.
Some do graze during winter. Though primarily speaking of larger operations, this article from the University of South Dakota offers some good background on rotational grazing during winter.
No matter the size of your operation and how you approach feeding on a seasonal basis, most industry experts agree that some kind of a calendar or pasture schedule is wise. A good example can be seen in the Iowa State article shared above. Whether written or verbalized, an intensive month-to-month or seasonal approach – you need to have a plan in place.
There’s an important aspect of field maintenance that we can’t overlook as a part of this conversation: fencing. Your fences can weather just as much during the months of snow and ice as they can during the days of sunny skies. It’s important to be vigilant for slack or downed wire, weathered posts and more.
This list from the team at ProFence LLC is a great reminder resource when evaluating the fences on your property.
With a good plan in place, you can set your farm up for success with livestock safety and a solid feeding program.
by Andy Haman