Beef School, Ep 9: A flexible approach to year-round grazing

Photo by Debra Murphy, 2018

Year-round grazing may mean different things to different people, but to Doug Wray, it essentially means providing ‘locally grown’ sustenance to his herd — that is, feeding where the forage was grown.

Wray implements strategies like swath grazing and bale grazing to achieve his goals, driving the cost of winter feeding down to about $0.80/head/day in 2016/17, and $1.40/head/day in 2017/18. But accomplishing this has meant more than just changing tactics during the cold season.

“For decades we grazed our native grass in the summer-time,” says Wray in this Beef School episode, adding that after the operation switched from mixed farming to strictly ranching, it opened up some new possibilities. “We now had enough grass that we had the option to graze it later or at another time.”

Eventually, Wray Ranch utilized native grass in November/December, running cattle on high legume pastures during the summer instead.

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Like any grazing management system, it isn’t always easy. Wray recognizes the importance of figuring out your feeding plan based on the typical snow loads you can expect. He also stresses the importance of having back-up plans. In years of heavy snowfall or extreme crusting, cows are fed bales (stored, just in case), or the snow is ploughed off of swaths. For heavier snowfall areas, bale grazing might make more sense, or winter grazing corn.

“If you go into this game pretty sure it won’t work, you’ll probably prove yourself right. If you go down these trails determined to find a way, most often you can find some way to make it work.”

For producers interested in giving year-round grazing a go, Wray suggests doing the research — check out information online, analyze your resources, and talk to people who are already doing it.

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