Sunny fall days make it hard to think about the approaching winter months and the less than ideal feeding conditions that come with the rain, cold and snow of Kentucky winters. Some producers can prolong the grazing season by utilizing stockpiled forages or winter annuals they planted in the fall. However, most producers at some point will have to feed a form of stored forage during the winter months and special consideration should be given to protect pastures while delivering winter feed.

Site Selection-Site selection of a winter feeding area is critical in protecting pasture for future grazing periods. By limiting animals to one area, the damage to other pastures is reduced. A winter feeding site should be well drained. Attention to nearby environmental resources that could be sensitive to runoff should be considered. Examples include: area streams, creeks, ponds and floodplains that could become contaminated. By maintaining adequate distance between a winter feeding site and sensitive environmental resources, runoff can be filtered by vegetation between the two to prevent contamination. Other considerations for winter feeding site selection include: accessibility, proximate location to feed resources, and availability of a reliable, clean water source for livestock.

Feeding Considerations- Feed delivery methods require consideration regarding their potential effects on pastures. Concentration of manure and feeding losses are just two areas that can be improved with minimal management. By rotating where animals are fed within a pasture, manure nutrients are more evenly distributed across the area. This can easily be done by moving bale feeders or unrolling bales in different areas on a regular basis. Animal performance will benefit from reducing mud build up animals must travel through. Daily intake has been shown to decrease as the mud depth increases. Also, as mud depth increases, energy needs increase and daily gains decreases. Hay feeder type impacts feeding losses. Bale feeders with solid, sheeted bottom portions have been shown to reduce feeding losses and the amount of hay build up outside of the feeder in a pasture.

Heavy Use Pad Constructed With Geotextile Fabric and Rock- Producers may want to consider the development of a permanent, hard-surfaced winter feeding area for their operation rather than feeding livestock in sacrificial fields. Again, a well-drained site, a safe distance from any sensitive environmental resources would be the best starting point. A heavy use pad constructed of geotextile fabric and gravel is one option. These pads are made using geotextile fabric under a 4-6 inch base layer of No. 3 or 4 crushed limestone, topped by 2-3 inches of sifted lime known as “dense grade”. These pads cost approximately one third as much as a concrete alternative, but require annual maintenance and addition of rock over time. Figure 1 shows a basic plan for a heavy use pad used to feed round bales of hay. In some cases, an access road may be needed to get to a feeding area. By installing an access road into feeding areas, producers can reduce damage to fields caused by tractors or other heavy equipment that create ruts while delivering feed. For more information on building and developing heavy use area pads and access roads go to:

Concrete Winter Feeding Structure- The construction of a concrete winter feeding structure can also make winter feeding easier while protecting pastures at the same time. This system brings animals to the hay as compared to a producer using equipment to take hay to the livestock. This greatly reduces the time, labor, and fuel costs associated with winter feeding. Additionally, the design of these structures allow producers to put out multiple days worth of feed, again reducing the amount of time dedicated to winter feeding. The location of a winter feeding structure can be installed for use with multiple pastures, reducing the amount of land damaged by densely stocked winter feeding. Producers can switch to different pastures during winter to allow cattle to distribute manure more evenly. Manure management within a structure is easier because of the hard surface to collect manure on, which can then be used to fertilize pastures and hayfields. A rock and geotextile pad can be used for access to the concrete winter feeding structure to minimize mud. For more information on constructing a winter feeding structure refer to the following UK publication: “Strategic Winter Feeding of Cattle Using a Rotational Grazing Structure”

No matter how producers choose to deliver winter feed, consideration should be given to how they can most effectively reduce damaging pastures, while conserving time and feed resources.

Round bale feeding pad

Figure 1. Basic dimensions and layout of a round bale heavy use feeding pad from: “Using Geotextiles For Feeding and Traffic Surfaces”.

Heavy use pad
A heavy use pad around an automatic waterer from: “All Weather Surfaces for Livestock”