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Winter feeding on a 100% grass-fed farm

written by

Tim Dowling

posted on

January 27, 2024


As a farm that raises 100% grass-fed cattle, we often get asked what the cows eat in the winter when there is no grass growing?  Great question! 

To begin with, the cattle work their way through what we have left of fresh grass. Grass production in the pastures really slows down in late fall, so we usually won't get enough growth to be able to get back to the paddocks that we grazed after mid-September to regraze them. This past season, we had enough grass to get us almost to January before we had to start feeding hay. As you might have guessed from the picture above, some November weather can be an interesting grazing challenge, but cattle are very resilient creatures. They thicken their coats through the fall and early winter to prep for the colder months, and they don't mind pushing a little snow out of the way to get at the beautiful green forage below. The process of feeding cattle on pasture outside of the growing season is called stockpile grazing. The more forage we can stockpile in the pastures, the more we can avoid feeding stored hay. Avoiding feeding hay is the main way we can reduce our consumption of fossil fuels on the farm in the current era of the climate crisis because every step of the process (cutting, raking, baling, gathering, feeding and spreading manure) involves the use of a tractor and diesel fuel.


When we have run out of pastures to graze, we shift to feeding hay.  Once the ground is frozen, we can start feeding the cattle bales of grass hay on the pastures without worrying about damaging the soil surface. We lay out the bales in a grid pattern with bales at least 20 ft apart and use temporary electric fencing to open up new rows to the cattle throughout the winter. This practice, called bale grazing, leaves lots of good fertilizer, in the form of manure and leftover hay.  Each year, we assess which pastures could most benefit from increased fertility and setup our winter feeding there.

Early this spring, we will be experimenting with having an area setup with bales at a much lower density (every 100-200ft) to see if this can be an effective way to feed the cattle and reduce soil and sod damage in March and April when the ground has thawed, but the grass is not yet mature enough to start grazing.

Once the grass season is back in late April, off we go with our regular rotations!

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