Using Swath Grazing

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Spring seeded cereals, winter annuals, annual legumes or combinations thereof are swathed in the fall for cattle to graze during the winter. Swathing is done late enough in the fall so cool daytime temperatures prevent mold growth.
  • Allowing livestock to obtain all or part of their feed through swath grazing extends the grazing season and reduces winter feed costs. Savings can be as high as 40% compared to traditional feeding methods.
  • Potential environmental benefits such as residue and manure management exist by reducing the cost of corral cleaning and manure spreading.
  • Swath grazing reduces the cost and time needed for harvesting forage and machinery use for handling feed and manure.
  • For swath grazing to be successful, good management is needed in keeping cattle healthy and in good condition. Feed, fencing, water and shelter are important elements that need to be carefully planned when developing a swath grazing program.
  • Caution is required when swath grazing calves, young cows, thin cows and cows with calves, as they need higher levels of energy and management than mature dry cows. If swath grazing these types of animals, consider providing supplemental feed and shelter when needed.
  • Select a field with protection from the wind, where you can provide extra feed to the animals on cold windy days, where you can easily monitor animal condition, where a water system is nearby if snow is unavailable, and where access to windrows is not limited due to severe snow drifting.
  • The swath should lay on top of the stubble and be as narrow and deep as possible.
  • Use electric fencing to force animals to clean up the feed that they have been given access to. If cattle are not controlled they will trample the swaths, and mix snow with the swath which then freezes. This makes it impossible for the cows to clean up the swaths during the winter.
  • Depending on weather and management practices, feed usage from swath grazing can be as high as or higher than the usage of harvested hay or silage crops
  • Cows can graze through two feet of soft snow. Wind-swept or severely crusted snow makes grazing difficult or impossible. If the snow is too hard or crystallized, the animal's nose becomes tender and lower leg hair can be rubbed off. If this happens, remove the herd from the swaths and feed regular feed to give the cows a rest.
  • If the snow becomes too hard or too deep, it may be physically impossible for the herd to access the swath. To open up the swath in times of heavy snow, drive a tractor down the swath or blade snow off the swath. Placing the electric wire across the swaths helps to expose the ends of the swath which enables the cows to see the continuation of the swath after each fence move.
  • Proper grounding is critical to making an electric fence work because of the high insulating factor of snow and frost to deliver a shock to the livestock. To overcome this, build a two-wire fence where one wire is electrified and one is grounded.
Fact Sheets

Agronomic Management of Swath Grazed Pastures

An Introduction to Swath Grazing in Western Canada

Backgrounding Calves on Annual Forages - available in PDF format only

Backgrounding Calves on Golden German Millet Swaths

Backgrounding Calves on Swathed Corn and Barley

Extending the Grazing Season: Swath Grazing - available in PDF format only

Fencing Guidelines for Wildlife - available in PDF format only

Golden German Millet Production in Saskatchewan - available in PDF format only

Making it Work: Extending Alberta's Grazing Season - available in PDF format only

Suitability of Cool and Warm Season Cereal Crops for Swath Grazing

Swath Grazing Barley and Barley/Pea Mixtures

Swath Grazing Calculator

Swath Grazing CDC SO-1 Oat and Red Proso Millet with Beef Cows - available in PDF format only

Swath Grazing-Interesting Concept But Does it Pay?

Swath/Windrow Grazing: An Alternative Livestock Feeding Technique - also available in PDF format

Tetany Problems in Beef Cows

Tighten Up With Triticale - available in PDF format only

Triticale Swath Grazing Demonstration Project - available in PDF format only

Triticale Use For Swath Grazing

9 Winter Electric Fencing Tips

Winter Tetany - Frequently Asked Questions

Year Round Grazing - 365 Days

Research Papers

Carrying Capacity, Utilization and Weathering of Swathed Whole Plant Barley - available in PDF format only

Evaluation of Forage Type Barley Varieties for Forage Yield and Nutritive Value in the Peace Region of Alberta - available in PDF format only

Swath-Grazing Potential for Small-Grain Species with a Delayed Planting Date - available in PDF format only

Swath grazing potential of spring cereals, field pea and mixtures with other species- available in PDF format only

Spring Triticale Varieties Forage Yield, Nutrients Composition and Suitability for Beef Cattle Production

Let us know of more good research papers for this topic.

  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 March 20, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on May 11, 2017.

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