Program helps farmers graze livestock 300 days a year

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CULPEPER—Winter feeding expenses can add up to more than 50 percent of cattle and small ruminant production costs, and they make up a large portion of variable expenses for horse owners and boarding operations.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Graze 300 VA program aims to help farmers graze their livestock 300 days a year.

The goal is to improve both farm profitability and water quality via winter feeding management that relies on grazing instead of a four-month dependency on hay.

“With depressed prices in recent years, it is essential that farmers consider techniques like Graze 300 that can help producers’ bottom lines,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “This can be a win-win for both producers and the environment.”

Currently, only a small number of producers in Virginia’s Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley regions regularly approach or achieve a 300-day grazing season.

“It makes good economic sense. By grazing more you will be more profitable,” noted Carl Stafford, a Virginia Cooperative Extension senior agent and certified forage and grassland professional who has worked with farmers on Graze 300 VA. “We’ve seen profitability go up by five times.”

Stafford said most producers worry about snow, but grazing is just a matter of animals digging through the snow for grasses. “This can work well for sheep, and horses too. Horses, they’re taller and have a natural shovel on their foot, so it would work well for them. It’s really about plowing the field and giving access to the grasses to your animals.”

Stafford said wet weather has been a challenge. “It’s been an interesting winter to study the program, because really wet weather is an enemy of winter feeding. You have to be able to take care of the grass to take care of the animal.”

Extending the grazing season benefits water quality through improved water infiltration, improved nutrient use efficiency, fewer barren areas in winter feeding sites and improved soil organic matter.

In addition, The Chesapeake Bay Program’s total maximum daily load gives nutrient and sediment credit for every acre of pasture converted into a grazing management system and every foot of stream where livestock are excluded.

There are more than 96,000 head of beef cattle in the northern Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont. If 20 percent of farms in those areas—about 19,000 head of cattle—improve economics by $100 per head per year, the benefit would be $1.9 million, according to Extension staff.

When applied to 20 percent of the entire Virginia beef herd, that’s a potential $13 million for participants’ bottom lines due to cost savings.

For more information visit

Media: Contact Stafford at 540-727-3435, ext. 351.

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