Feed, particularly winter feeding, has a big impact on the bottom line, and that’s why cattle producers should consider swath grazing, says Vern Baron.
The research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Lacombe has been studying swath grazing since the 1990s and says the economic benefits are obvious.
“We reduced costs by not harvesting, not hauling feed, not processing feed, and not removing manure,” he said.
In one of his studies, Baron found swath grazing cows on barley could reduce feed costs by 40 per cent. The process involved planting a barley variety late, harvesting it in mid-September and laying it out on a swath so it couldn’t spoil until it was grazed in November. Barley was chosen because it will mature early if planted late.
“The later you plant barley, the faster it will mature,” Baron said. “The consequence is that grain yields go down and in general, forage yields go down. Yet we were still able to make that difference in 40 per cent daily feeding costs with barley.”
Eighty per cent of savings in swath grazing is attributed to reduced equipment costs, fuel costs and labour. The cost of feed production is about the same whether planting late with a low yield or planting early with high yield even though planting barley late results in a 40 per cent reduction in yield. To make improvements, researchers are trying to reduce the cost of feed production.
“That has to come about by improving yield in the system we work with,” said Baron. “If we have to plant late, we have to use varieties and species that can be planted late and yield more, or we just find new species that are better at doing that.”
Researchers looked at corn and triticale, which both use a whole season and can be planted earlier. Using barley resulted in savings of 37 to 40 per cent, while using corn resulted in savings of about 50 per cent. However, corn yields fluctuate from year to year and corn costs twice as much to grow. Researchers found advantages when using a triticale variety such as Bunker, which can be planted in May and outyield barley by about 30 per cent. Using triticale in swath grazing can result in savings of up to 60 per cent, said Baron.
“We’re not saying that all barley is bad,” he said. “We’re just saying the barleys we tested so far, both in agronomic trials and in swath grazing studies, had about a 40 per cent reduction in yield compared to what they could be.”One of the promising new varieties is Gadsby, a high producer with high forage yields. Researchers are also testing new varieties of triticale. Both barley and triticale have low cell wall digestibility compared to forages such as meadow brome grass.
“We have to try to offset that by getting as much grain or starch into the whole plant as we possibly can,” Baron said.
Researchers will also test new varieties of barley that aren’t on the market yet.