Local Farmer Bails On Hay
Use Of Strip Grazing Promoted At Weyers Cave Ag Conference
Posted: January 24, 2013
WEYERS CAVE — With every year that passes, local farmer Peter Hostetler has less and less of a desire to make hay.
But thanks to a change he made on his 150-acre farm between Harrisonburg and Broadway, he now knows that he can cut back drastically on the process while still providing his cows plenty of nutrition.
“I never did use this last year,” he said while showing a room full of farmers a picture of an empty hay feeder Wednesday.
Hostetler was speaking at a winter forage conference, hosted by the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council and Virginia Cooperative Extension at Weyers Cave Community Center. The event was one of four held around Virginia this week.
Hostetler used to make about 1,000 bales of hay per year, but topped out around 200 last year.
With help from J.B. Daniel, grassland agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, he started strip grazing 55 head of cattle on one pasture in 2010. That winter, he fed his herd a total of 16 bales of hay; the following winter, he didn’t have to give them any.
In previous winters, he might easily go through 100 to 120 bales.
In addition to stockpiling fescue for winter grazing — when farmers allow the forage to accumulate for later use — strip grazing has helped Hostetler’s bottom line. One 4-by-5-foot round bale of hay for beef cattle costs about $30, which is down from roughly $50 or $60 two years ago, he said.
Strip grazing occurs when a farmer moves a live fence back a few feet every several days or weeks so cattle will only graze in a certain area.
While strip grazing and stockpiling fescue are not new practices, many farmers don’t make full use of them, ag leaders say.
Keeping the use of hay to a minimum to reduce costs was the theme of Wednesday’s conference, which also featured talks from Daniel, the agronomist who helped Hostetler.
“Predominantly, what I find with dealing with farmers … overall, people want higher levels of productivity,” Daniel said, explaining that improving grazing management could be one way to achieve that.
He suggested that farmers plan out a new grazing system for months and even a year before implementing one, making sure to have concrete goals in mind and consider the best layout for their farms.
Daniel also noted that farmers can simultaneously achieve conservation goals when improving grazing practices.
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