By Gary Sliworsky
Ag and rural rep, Emo
During the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis of 2003, farmers embraced swath grazing—and it likely saved some of them from bankruptcy because it dramatically reduced winter feeding costs.
Today, about 22 percent of Prairie cattle producers use swath grazing for winter feeding.
A recent study commissioned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) confirmed this feeding system continues to deliver significant benefits to producers.
Swath grazing involves seeding a cereal crop in mid- to late June, swathing it in mid-September, and then leaving the swathes in the field for cattle to graze on during the winter.
It reduces the labour, machinery, and fuel expenses of baling forage, moving it to the farmyard, delivering it to the cattle all winter, and hauling the manure from the winter feeding area back out to the field the following spring.
Instead, the cattle do all that work themselves. No wonder the method has become popular.
Essentially, the longer cows can graze outside, the more money farmers can save.
Research into swath grazing has aimed to discover whether it’s possible to extend the grazing season by an average of 100 days.
The annual savings depend on the grain—savings are most dramatic for triticale ($120 annually per cow) while lower for corn ($93) and barley ($74).
Research on swathing began in the mid-1990s.
According to the study, since 1995, the beef industry, the federal government, and Alberta and Saskatchewan invested a total of about $10 million into the research, with AAFC contributing just over half of that funding ($5.4 million).
With an estimated 3.1 million beef cows in the Prairies (as of July, 2015), the return on research dollar investment was estimated at $1.3 billion.
This means each dollar invested in swath grazing research yielded 170:1 in benefits to the sector.
This innovative grazing practice is positioning Canada at the forefront of global agricultural science and innovation.
It also is reducing Canada’s ecological footprint by minimizing the fossil fuels that more traditional systems require for storing feed and hauling manure.
Dates to remember
•Aug. 18-20–Rainy River Valley Agricultural Society annual fall fair in Emo