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Warming up to winter grazing

Jerry Doan, and sons Jay and Jeremy, are smiling for a good reason.

Warming up to winter grazing

Jerry Doan, and sons Jay and Jeremy, are smiling for a good reason.

The McKenzie, N.D., ranchers are set up to save as much as $250 or more per head on winter feed costs again this year.

Last year, they were able to keep 350 cows and their calves out on pastures and crop fields all winter long. The cattle grazed cornstalks and cover crops.

Winter grazing isn’t unheard of in North Dakota, but it usually involves putting out bales or windrowing hay for the animals to graze.

Key Points

• Black Leg Ranch in North Dakota grazes cattle all winter long.

• Cornstalks and cover crops are winter forage sources.

• The Doans planted some fields to full-season cover crops for winter.

“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 Conservation Service district conservationist, Burleigh County, N.D.

Key to their success was planting full-season cover crops rather than cash-grain crops on some of their land and having the cattle graze the cover crops in the winter.

“It worked very well,” Jerry says. “The cows were in the best condition coming into calving that I have ever seen — even when they were on feed.”

Plus, the cattle improved the soil by adding organic matter to the soil through their manure and trampling crop residue into the soil surface. Soil tests indicated that on the full-season cover-crop fields that had been grazed, the Doans didn’t need any additional commercial fertilizer to produce sunflower yields of 2,000 pounds per acre. They planted the sunflowers without adding fertilizer, and the crop developed well and had the potential to yield 2,000 pounds per acre. But severe blackbird damage reduced sunflower yields significantly, so the Doans didn’t get a good yield test.

“The main point of this is you can feed the cows, cutting feed costs substantially and building soil health while allowing savings in input costs,” Jerry says.


cold cover crops: Jerry Doan (center) with sons Jay (left) and Jeremy, all of Black Leg Ranch, are grazing cattle all winter long on cover crops.

This article published in the January, 2015 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.

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