Tim Fine

Harvest is just now starting to really ramp up, the fair is all wrapped up, and a good portion of the second hay crop is being baled, which all signals one thing, we are not really that far from snowflakes falling from the sky. Which means that much of the hay that has been baled or is intending to be baled will soon be used for feed. But what if that wasn’t necessary?

A couple of weeks ago, I helped with a field day at the farm/ranch of Marlin and Aurilla Johnson just west and north of Richey. I know that I mentioned this before but the sole purpose of the field day was for producers and interested people to see first-hand how the Johnsons substantially reduced their demand for hay this past winter.

Before going any further, I will make some acknowledgements up front. Yes, we have had more moisture last year and so far this growing season and yes setting up a system like this does require materials and labor up front. I would counter these common statements made by people who may just have a general interest in this system by saying that it’s better to have something to take advantage of the abundant rainfall and the labor and materials that are put in up front pale in comparison to the labor, fuel and wear and tear that it takes to feed hay all winter.

As a bit of a recap, the Johnsons seeded cover crops, straight sudan grass, and corn on a little over 200 acres with the sole purpose of the acreage to be allowed to grow through the growing season so it could be utilized as a feed source in the winter. To do this, paddocks were designed and drawn up and electric fence was put in to separate the paddocks. The Johnsons ran 108 (I believe that is the correct number but may be off by a few) cows on this forage source starting in late October and they rotated through these three (cover crop, sudan grass, corn) systems up until they were ready to start calving. There was actually still a good portion of the corn crop left so some heifers were turned into it after the cows were pulled off and were able to stay there for the rest of the winter and into spring.

I know that it is too late at this point for a person to try and accomplish something like this if they were not already set up for it but consider this food for thought for next year. The paddocks were designed with the intent of keeping the cows in them for a week to 10 days and for the most part that was the length of time they were in them. So instead of bringing a bale to them every day, they were able to move fence once a week.

The plan is to have another field day at the Johnson’s this fall/winter so participants can actually see this system “in action.” I will provide updates as to when the field day will happen but in the meantime, if you would like to know more about this project, you can call me at 433-1206 or send an email to timothy.fine@montana.edu.

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