Home Grazing The Forgey Files -- Contents Winter Feeding Under a Breakwire

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Dave Forgey
Dave Forgey
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
Winter Feeding Under a Breakwire
Saves chore time and distributes manure evenly around the farm.

By Dave Forgey, Logansport, Ind., forgraze@carlnet.org

This is a practice which we have used to feed our entire herd since '93-'94. We put hay, silage, grain or any combination in a windrow on the ground and then place a polywire directly over it so that the cows must reach under the wire to eat the feed. To get complete consumption of all the feed it is usually necessary to move the wire about a foot at least once to keep the cows from wasting some of the feed by trampling.

We space windrows about 6 feet apart running the full width of a paddock, and then just advance the polywire to the next windrow as the cows consume the feed under the first wire. When weather permits, we will put down windrows for two to three days, thus relieving the chore of daily feeding. When we put down more than one day's feed, we usually put up a second breakwire as a safety so that animals don't take down one wire and then have access to several days feed.

We usually place the first windrow about a quarter of the way across the paddock. This gives the animals a clean area where they can lay down. This system of moving the cows across a paddock allows for very good distribution of manure and nutrients throughout the paddock. If we feed under a breakwire on a third of our farm each winter, we have found the fertility levels remain very stable throughout the farm.

Each spring, we seed the paddocks we use for winter feeding with legume species to improve the stands. With all the manure on the paddock, the environment is very good for germination.

A certain amount of pugging (cutting up by hoof action) of the paddocks is good when winter feeding. It opens the soil so that the new seeds will have good soil contact to become established. We have also found that it is best to hay the winter feed paddocks in the early spring to give the earthworms adequate time to dispense the manure before allowing the cows to graze. Otherwise there will be some refusal by the animals because of the large amount of manure deposited in the paddock.

Many graziers in the cold areas of the U.S. have expressed concerns about how to build temporary fence in frozen ground. One grazier in Pennsylvania reported that he used a cordless drill and masonry bit to drill holes in the ground to set breakposts. We only set posts about 3 inches deep which is adequate in frozen ground. We use steel posts because they are easier to remove from frozen ground. A quick twist with pliers or a small pipe wrench and they will come out.

In addition to less time spent on feeding chores, it is amazing how much time is saved by not having to haul manure from the lots where the animals spend their winters.

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