Calgary (Rural Roots Canada) – Winter feeding systems can improve the efficiency of your farm.

Dr. Breeanna Kelln is the Beef Industry Research Chair in Integrated Forage Management and Utilization and an Assistant Professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

She says keeping livestock on your cropland during the winter months can help forage production in future years.

Kelln and Melissa Atchison, co-owner of Poplarview Stock Farm in Pipestone, Manitoba as well as the Research and Extension Specialist with Manitoba Beef, presented at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary in August.

Kelln says winter feeding on cropland will create efficiencies on operations and, potentially, increase production of forage the following year.

Implementing Winter Feeding Systems

In perennial systems, Kelln says producers can use the winter feed on those forage acres to increase productivity.

“Capturing some nutrients from that manure and urine that’s out on the acre or even in an annual crop system where they maybe have a crop that they’re harvesting, and they’re able to utilize and feed out on those acres,” says Kelln, adding straw-chop is a great example.

She says it’s all about recycling those nutrients and getting more nutrient cycling happening. This allows those acres to capture the nutrients.

“Being able to capture nutrients increases productivity and profitability on those acres.”

Atchison added to that by providing examples of what they do on their operation. – It was a great way to represent some of the academic results of some of these methods and then a way for me to show how we do this on the farm and the practical implications and boots on the ground.

“Things like keeping something growing in the soil for as much of these as possible and doing a Fall Rye, taking that off for silage, putting in another crop or a polycrop, getting another silage off of that, getting some regrowth off of that,” says Atchison.

Atchison says this process allows you to redistribute and import nutrients to sensitive areas on the farm.

READ MORE: BCRC: Winter Feed Cost Comparison Calculator – Regional Trends and Opportunities

Weathering Drought

This year’s drought conditions have left producers in a tough spot as they scramble for solutions to feed livestock.

Kelln says there are ways to mitigate and manage it.

“Things like byproducts, residue feeds, alternative feeds, there might be some salvage crops, whether they’re hailed out or whether they’re droughted out, they can be options for feed.”

She adds the caveat here is the need for a feed test.

“We sometimes see some funky things going on in those feeds that can create issues. So you want to make sure you have a feed test.”

Atchison echoes that note, saying you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

“The more novel a feed ingredient is, the more stress it’s been under during the growing season, the more important it is to take stock of what’s is in it.”

She says this allows you to manage it efficiently.

“It’s not meant that you can’t use it. It’s just using what you have to manage any issues you might have, which is very important.”

RELATED: BCRC: Decision Making During Drought

However, Kelln says the best strategy for mitigating the effects of droughts, like what is being experienced across the prairies this year, is planning for it in the good years and setting themselves to get through that drought.

That includes planting cover crops, like Fall Rye, to capture a bit more moisture and provide ground cover.

She adds the cover crop also provides a cooling effect on the soil to help the crop the following year.

Peer to Peer

Kelln and Atchison’s BOV Innovation session at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference set off a lot of discussion, particularly around implementing an extensive grazing system.

It was perfect for anyone who was thinking about venturing down this road, as they could talk to other producers and get advice on how to put it into action on the spot.

“It’s important for them to hear from others and hear some of the things that work really well for them and also some of the things that maybe haven’t worked,” Kelln said.

She adds that Melissa’s practical perspective was an important part of the presentation as it allowed everyone to see some of the things that producers might need to think about on the ground in terms of fencing and water infrastructure, windbreaks, etc.

They both hope a lot of farmers go home and have a look at their operations and identify opportunities on their farms while continuing to have conversations with their peers on how to enhance practices and operations.

“There’s not one way to feed a cow. There’s a million ways to feed a cow, and it doesn’t mean that those ways are right or wrong.”