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Warming up to winter grazing

Warming up to winter grazing
Jerry Doan and his sons grow full season cover crops for cattle to graze in the winter

Jerry Doan, and sons Jay and Jeremy, of Blackleg Ranch, McKenzie, N.D., are set up to save as much as $250 or more per head on winter feed costs for their beef cattle again this year.

They winter graze their herd on full season cover crops that they grow on cropland exclusively for grazing instead of for grain.

"I'm not aware of anyone else having achieved true all winter grazing on standing cover crops in North Dakota," says Jay Fuhrer, Natural Resources Conservationist Service district conservationist, Burleigh County, N.D.

The Doans winter grazed cover crops last year.

Cattle and calves find plenty of forage beneath the snow in fields planted to full season covers crops. Photo: Blackleg Ranch

"It's worked very well," Jerry says. "The cows were in the best condition coming into calving than I have ever seen, even when they were on feed."

The Doans saved money on diesel fuel and labor with winter grazing because they don't have to run tractors to feed hay, blow snow or clean pens every day.

They don't think they will have have to buy as much commercial fertilizer to grow cash crops on the fields where the cattle grazed over the winter because of the nutrients released from the cover crop, along with all the manure and urine that the cattle have spread.

Last spring, a soil biology test on winter grazed fields showed the highest microbial biomass level seen to date in Burleigh County, says Fuhrer says.

If they continue to winter graze, the Doans will likely avoid a big expense in the future. Because they won't be feeding cattle in pens in the winter, they won't need to build a lagoon or other ag waste structure to prevent runoff from the facility from getting into a nearby creek.

Planting a full-season cover crop mix for winter grazing helps their pheasant and deer hunting enterprise. The forage is exceptional habitat for deer and pheasants.

If they can continue to winter graze, the Doans plan to add water sources and build more fences so they can graze different grain fields planted to full season cover crops in the future.

"Winter grazing seems to lot of sense for us," Jerry says.

See what they do to make winter grazing possible in the January issue of Dakota Farmer. It is on line at Click on Magazine Online.

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