By Robert Waggener
In his effort to kick the hay habit, ranch manager Mike Kossler is now grazing cattle through much of the growing season in irrigated pastures instead of mechanically harvesting that hay.
Kosler manages Eagle Valley Ranch in east-central Idaho near Salmon.
He now grazes the cattle through much of the winter on grass left standing in irrigated pastures or on "hay" left on the ground in windrows.
Kossler uses permanent fence along with lines of portable electric fence to create three- to five-acre paddocks. Typically in each of these paddocks about 300 cows are grazed for two days before being moved into the next paddock. The next paddock is set up before time to move.
In the winter Kessler uses a cordless electric drill to poke 3-inch-deep holes in the frozen ground for the electric fence posts.
"We spend about 30 minutes a day to set up feeder lines and move cows, versus three to four hours a day feeding hay," Kossler says. "Before we started this program, we traditionally fed hay from late November to May or June. Now, we don't typically start feeding until late February or March."
Some stored hay is necessary, especially to account for years of heavy snow, he adds.
"We didn't start feeding until mid-February in 2012, but in 2011 we were feeding supplemental hay by December 10 because of heavy snow," he says. "That's why you have to have a stored hay supply."
Down the road, Kossler says, the ranch may totally eliminate its haying operation and purchase whatever stored hay it needs from neighboring ranches.
"In 2006, I did a detailed economic analysis and it was costing us $91 to put up each ton of hay. Today, it would probably be $110—or even more."
In the early winter, before supplemental feeding starts, Kossler says the ranch spends about 56 cents a day for four pounds of corn gluten per cow. In the past it was spending $2.20 a day per cow to feed stored alfalfa.
Kossler says another cost-efficient move they made is to leave about 100 acres of grass/alfalfa in windrows instead of baling.