"We cut the hay in mid- to late-October. Once it settles down in the windrows, it stays put in the wind," he says. "We have done this for a couple of years and it's working very well for us. We're planning to increase the acreage left in windrows."
Kossler says it's important to have protein levels checked in standing grass/alfalfa during the winter as protein levels drop. Windrows hold protein levels at about 9% while standing grass/alfalfa protein levels typically drop to about 3%.
The ranch employs three full-time and four part-time workers. Kossler says that by cutting down on time spent haying and feeding, employees are now able to spend more time performing other work, including fencing, equipment repairs and improvements around the ranch.
Grazing Plan Leads To Vigorous Plant Growth
Mike Kossler says once he performed an inventory of ranch resources he quickly determined that continuous grazing was hurting the health of grasses, legumes and other plants, especially in creek bottoms where cattle tended to concentrate.
"They were eating the Schwan's ice cream and leaving the broccoli. They were overgrazing some areas and not utilizing other areas," he says.
To cure the problem, Kossler and the owners of the Idaho ranch switched to an intensive, short-duration grazing plan on both dry and irrigated lands. They use permanent and portable electric fence, along with mostly gravity-fed water developments including a well, underground pipe and troughs. The water system cost about $14,000 but was quickly paid off when factoring in savings associated from reductions in hay cutting and feeding.
"Our new plan allows us to never impact a piece of ground for more than three days, yet it allows us to typically graze that same ground three or four times a season," Kossler says. "We try to leave about four inches of vegetation. That allows for photosynthesis to take place in the lower leaves. Because of that, we're seeing much more vigorous regrowth.
"Previous bare patches of ground are now filled in with grass and legumes, which has reduced our problem with weeds such as Canada thistle and knapweed."
Kossler says they try not to go back into pastures until there is about 10 inches of growth.
Waggener writes from Laramie, Wyo.