Published May 6, 2011

It’s spring; let’s start planning for winter!

By Kevin Dietzel

How did all you graziers make it through the winter? Are your cows in good condition? Did last year’s calves gain well? Are your pastures in good condition and ready to grow lots of good nutritious grass? Do you want to know how well your animals perform this summer on pasture?

A good way to know how well your growing animals are performing is to weigh them at the beginning of the grazing season (or calves and lambs at birth). Remember that PFI has four livestock scales distributed around the state! The scales will work for cattle, goats, sheep, hogs, llamas, horses, bison, zebras… if you have a way to hold them on the scale it should work. Give me a call at 515-232-5661 or email me at to locate a scale near you. They could and should be used a lot more than they have been!

So I know people probably don’t want to think about next winter yet, especially now that we’re finally having some warmer weather, but it’s important to start planning for winter early if you want to maintain good animal performance and without breaking the bank.

Will you try to stockpile grass and graze it in the winter? That requires managing your grazing now so that you get enough grass growth throughout the season to have excess grass to stockpile. This involves the perfect balance of stocking rate, stock density, and properly functioning soils and grassland communities.

Will you make hay to feed during the winter? This requires timely harvest of hay, and good forage stands. Making hay yourself can also be quite costly when you consider equipment, fuel, and labor costs. Make sure to forage test your hay so you know before you start feeding it if you have sub-par quality. According to an Iowa Beef Center study last fall that several PFI cooperators were part of, most hay in Iowa last fall was low quality, and would have required supplementation for good animal performance.

Buying hay? Where will you get it? What can you afford to pay for it? Ideally, you should have it analyzed before you buy it, so you know it is good enough quality for the price you are paying and the class of animals you want to feed.

One of the best ways to improve your skills as a grazier is to learn what other graziers are doing! PFI has a great field day lineup to give you plenty of opportunities to learn from farmers. Your field day guide should be arriving in the mail by the end of this month.

Are you interested in monitoring how your winter feeding strategy is working? PFI will be doing a winter feed monitoring project starting this next winter. This will involve keeping a record of what and how much you feed (or graze) and weighing animals periodically. Hopefully we can all learn from each other, and share with the rest of PFI, what is working well and what is not. Contact me, Kevin Dietzel, if you are interested in being part of this project; email or phone 515-232-5661.