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Bale Grazing

Bale grazing on fields is a method of providing feed to beef cattle during the winter months. With this system, livestock are allowed access to bales previously placed on a field or wintering site. When properly managed, it does not compromise the health, comfort or performance of the livestock.


Bale grazing advantages compared to traditional intensive winter feeding

  • Economically - bale grazing can reduce the costs for labour, machinery and fossil fuels, both in the feeding of the bales and manure handling. 
  • Environmentally - research has shown increased nitrogen capture in the soil profile compared to intensive feeding in a corral followed by manure spreading with equipment. Proper site selection and bale density will ensure the nutrients from manure, urine and leftover material are uniformly deposited at acceptable rates to enhance forage growth and minimize environmental impacts on water quality.

Intensive and extensive bale grazing

Cows bale grazing
Intensive bale grazing on a selected site. Electric
fencing controls livestock access to the bales. 

Bale grazing on a field is a method of extensive winter feeding compared to intensive feeding in a confined area, which results in a manure pack. There are variations on how producers are setting up and managing extensive bale grazing systems.

On the intensive end of the spectrum, bales are transported to a site and placed relatively close together. A typical density is placing bales 40 feet apart on a grid, which equates to about 25 bales per acre. In this situation most producers are controlling the livestock with electric wire. Livestock are limited to a three- to four-day feed supply at a time, with or without bale feeders. This publication is written mainly with this method and intensity in mind.

Cows bale grazing
Extensive bale grazing on the hayfield where the bales were made and ejected from the baler.

On the extensive end of the spectrum, bales are grazed in the field and on the spot where they were ejected from the baler. A typical bale density would be two to four bales per acre. With this density, some producers have been leaving the net wrap on the bales and allowing a three- to four-week allotment of bales at a time.

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