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Swath grazing cereals saves half of overwintering costs in beef cattle

With new higher-yielding, higher-quality forage cereals in the works, there has never been a better time for beef cattle producers to try swath grazing cereals

Swath grazing cereals could save producers almost half the cost of overwintering cattle, says a federal forage researcher.

“Extended grazing practices like swath grazing, bale grazing, and grazing second-cut grasses in the fall are one of the most effective ways to reduce your overwintering costs of beef cows,” Vern Baron said at the Lacombe Field Day in late July.

“By swath grazing barley, which is the most popular, you can save about 42 per cent of what you would be spending on keeping cows over winter in a feedlot or feeding site.”

For every $1 producers spend feeding grain and hay mixtures over the winter, he said, they save around 58 cents. If it costs close to $2 a day to overwinter a cow, producers stand to save around $1.20 per cow per day — savings that really add up in larger herds.

“At 100 cows for 100 days, that saves you about $7,000 if you’re using barley,” said Baron, adding that barley costs around $90 an acre to grow to swath-grazing stage.

“We made really big improvements in the cost of overwintering cattle by using barley, because with barley, our savings are coming from not having to harvest and bale or make silage, haul it, process it, feed it, and take manure out.”

And the savings are even higher when swath grazing triticale.

“Triticale is cheaper,” he said, adding that growing triticale costs around $130 an acre.

“When it’s planted at a time that it can be swathed in September for swath grazing, it yields twice as much. Something that costs about the same and yields twice as much is going to cost you about half on a per-cow per-day basis.

“If you’re using triticale, which yields more and costs about the same, you could save as much as $12,000 compared to traditional methods.”

Cereal breeders in Lacombe and across the Prairies have been working to improve yield and quality in both triticale and barley to make them more appealing for swath grazing, said Pat Juskiw, a barley breeder with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

“One of the things we’ve been able to identify is that fibre digestibility does differ between different genotypes,” she said. “We have selections with improved fibre digestibility, especially in the barley.”

Gadsby — a general-purpose barley — has been popular among grazers for its improved digestibility, but Falcon is a “hot variety” because of its increased biomass yields. And new ones are coming down the line.

An as-yet unnamed variety (FB 439) has high yield and high quality, making it a superior “silage or forage type,” she said, while a new triticale variety (94L) also has high biomass yields and better forage quality.

“Another thing you might want in a forage triticale is the reduced awn trait, and Taza has that reduced awn trait,” said Juskiw.

With these improved varieties and the economics of overwintering cattle, swath grazing cereals will become a more attractive option for producers, said Baron.

“There never has been a time when you have as many choices for using cereals for forage as there is now.”

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