Bale Grazing

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Bale grazing is the practice of allowing livestock to graze bales extensively on pastures and hayfields, rather than feeding intensively in confinement. Bales can be grazed where they are ejected from the baler or they can be moved to feeding fields. This eliminates the need to stack and move the bales again in the winter.

  • Bale grazing reduces yardage costs especially when bales are grazed in the hayfield where they were made. Costs increase the further the bales are transported to the feeding area and the number of times they are handled. Do a cost analysis for your operation when considering this feeding practice.

  • The bales are rationed out to the cows throughout the winter by moving an electric fence periodically. With net wrap, the bales are not started as easily by the cows so they tend to finish a bale before they start a new one. The net wrap can then be picked up in the spring.

  • Manure and left over feed is distributed directly on the pasture or hayfield eliminating both the costs of manure hauling.

  • Low fertility areas of a seeded pasture or hayfield can be improved as added nutrients from the manure and feed not eaten will increase forage production.

  • Feed wastage is affected by the length of feeding period and quality of feed. Longer feeding periods like 10 days tend to have greater waste than feeding periods like 3 days.

  • To avoid excessive nutrient build up, use a maximum density of about 800 cow days/acre which depending on bale weight works out to about 25 bales/acre. Monitor the following summer's vegetation response to avoid excessive nutrient loading to determine when to return to this feeding site.

  • Warm weather bale grazing results in more wastage than cold weather grazing due to more aggressive feeding when it is cold.

  • Deep snow results in more bedding on the feed compared to shallow or no snow. Possibly move the cattle away from the bales after several hours of feeding to prevent the cattle from bedding on the feed over night.

  • Deep snow prevents cattle from easily moving from bale to bale within the allotted area so that they typically clean up a bale before moving to another.

  • Consider using light weight bale feeders that can be moved and placed by hand over bales to reduce waste.

  • Strategically place the appropriate quality of bales in the fall so that the ration will be balanced to the animal’s nutrient needs as the feeding period progresses throughout the winter.

  • Avoid bale grazing on environmentally sensitive sites such as in riparian areas, sites where runoff will flow directly into surface water, on high water tables or on sandy soil.

  • Do not bale graze on native rangeland because it will alter the species composition away from native species.

  • Be prepared to address weed problems like Canada thistle or Quackgrass that may develop on the heavily manured spots.

Fact Sheets
Bale Grazing

Bale Grazing Calculator

Calculating Fertilizer Value of Supplemental Feed for Cattle on Pasture - available in PDF format only

The Basics and Benefits of Bale Grazing - available in PDF format only

Sustainable Management of Nutrients on the Landscape for In-Field Livestock Winter Feeding Systems

Effect of Winter Feeding Systems on Soil Nutrients, Soil Distribution and Soil Compaction - available in PDF format only

Research Papers
The effect of cattle winter feeding systems on soil nutrients, forage growth, animal performance and economics - available in PDF format only

  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Linda Hunt.
This information published to the web on June 9, 2004.
Last Reviewed/Revised on December 15, 2014.

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