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Sustainable Wintering Site Management

By: Sarah Sommerfeld, PAg., Regional Forage Specialist

November 2017

Many livestock producers have moved from wintering animals in a confined drylot system and adopted some type of in-field winter feeding. Extending the grazing season and in-field winter feeding can reduce an operation’s cost of production. Bale grazing, swath grazing, feeding with a bale processor or any combination of options can be used resulting in animals that are out on the land, distributing nutrients and manure.

The importance of selecting a suitable wintering site and good site management cannot be overlooked. Good site management ensures that the benefits of extensive winter feeding are captured, while limiting the potential environmental risks. In particular, the risk of nutrient accumulation at the site and the potential loss of nutrients into surface or groundwater sources should be mitigated.

Extensive feeding practices, such as bale grazing, may cause environmental risks because large amounts of nutrients are being added to the site. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are added to the soil profile from both manure and feed waste. These nutrients may be harmful if washed away during spring snowmelt and rainfall or leached below the root zone and potentially into groundwater aquifers. Phosphorus can contribute to blue-green algae blooms and nitrates can cause health risks in water used for human and livestock consumption. The goal is to maximize soil fertility to allow increased plant growth while minimizing nutrient losses.

To choose a sustainable wintering site, a producer should:

  1. avoid areas that are over-utilized,
  2. locate watering sites away from water sources to avoid runoff contamination,
  3. select a site that has good ground cover, such as perennial forage which will aid in nutrient absorption,
  4. try to choose a site with less than 2 per cent slope to minimize runoff,
  5. avoid coarse-textured soils and
  6. avoid areas with high water tables or likelihood of spring flooding.

Regardless of the site selected and the management practices followed, the wintering feeding system needs to ensure that the daily nutritional requirements of the cowherd are being met.  Adequate water and shelter must also be provided. Because no two operations are alike, finding a sustainable wintering site and extensive feeding system that meets you and your cowherd’s needs will likely be different than the one needed by your neighbours.

For more information on wintering site management, contact your local Regional Forage or Regional Livestock Specialist or contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377. 

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