Location key in pasture wintering sites
The very nature of outside lots implies that the livestock will congregate — and defecate — in one area, as well as generally destroy vegetation and compact soil in that area. Melting snow and spring rains can potentially wash an entire winter’s worth of nutrients off the site. A determined manager can reduce this risk.
For Right to Farm protection, runoff containing manure nutrients should not leave the owner’s property and should never reach surface waters. Properly locating a wintering area is the first step to avoiding both. Temporary fencing can restrict animals to areas in a pasture farthest from surface water and not sloped toward neighbors, roads, ditches or streams.
Use of temporary fencing
Temporary fencing can also restrict them to areas that naturally provide vegetated buffer distances between the animals and any other surface feature.
The greater the distance this runoff would have to move over adjoining pastureland or crop fields before it reaches surface water, the greater the chance nutrients will settle in the farmland, thereby benefiting future crop growth rather than contaminating surface waters.
2 methods for overwintering
There are two extremely different methods that are the best options for overwintering sites. One is to provide the livestock a large amount of land and move the feed and water to different locations in the field throughout the season.
This method forces animals to distribute manure and its nutrients over the area. This can be a daunting task on chilly winter days. If you choose to do this, it’s important to stay dedicated to the process throughout the season.
Another option is to confine animals to a much smaller area, and feed and water them in the same area all winter. This will concentrate the manure nutrients in a small enough area that they can be scraped up and reallocated to crop and pasturelands before a spring thaw.
Keep this area as small as possible to reduce soil compaction and loss of vegetation. And above all, locate this in a pasture area that does not allow runoff to surface waters.
You can avoid excessive nutrient buildup at a winter feeding area by moving the feeding area every eight to 10 days. Be sure to use temporary fencing to exclude the cattle from locations adjacent to surface waters or swampy areas. At a minimum, one should rotate winter feeding areas each year and reseed them.
When using round bale feeders, move the feeder ring after each bale is fed. Leaving round bale feeders in the same location all winter will destroy the surrounding sod, compact the soil and concentrate nutrients in that location. Systematic linear movement of round bale feeders across a field, commonly called “bale grazing,” will go a long way to provide uniform manure distribution. Starting this feeding line at the opposite end of the field from where the water and the mineral sources are located is one way to get the cows to spread the manure across the field.
Rector is a member of the Michigan State University Extension Animal Agriculture and the Environment Team. You can read more of her work at www.animalagteam.msu.edu.
This article published in the January, 2010 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.