What do we feed during the winter?
We frequently get asked what we feed our grass fed beef and sheep during the winter. Folks know that we live in upstate NY, on a rugged hill farm. Winter’s are long, hard, and very snowy. Livestock cannot survive on the pastures that supplied them with lush greens all spring, summer and fall. The winter fields are often snow-covered, sometimes with upwards of 3 feet of snow. The animals just cannot be expected to dig through this to find enough nourishment to thrive.
We farm using as many sustainable agriculture principles as we can, such as grass farming, and rotational grazing. Grazing consists of animals feeding in a given paddock for a few days, and then being moved to another plot. We graze all of the land on our home farm and then make hay on neighboring rented land all within a mile of the farm. Starting in May, we pull out the machinery needed to make hay for the non grazing months, which is typically from about late October till late early May. This includes a a lot of equipment, in addition to several tractors, all made in the 1970’s. We use a discbine, to mow the hay with, and then a tedder, which fluffs up the hay to dry before raking, and then a hay rake to put the hay into windrows to be baled. If the hay dries down in a timely manner, we then bale it with a round baler that makes about a 700 pound bale. Then we have to go and load the round bales with a front end loader tractor and a heavy duty transport wagon, and then haul them home and stack them under cover. We need at least a 3 day window without any rain to make the best hay. So, all summer, we watch for those windows, and rush out to start the process of turning fields of green into winter nourishment. Rarely we get the hay rained on, and then the hay must be tedded and raked again to dry. Additionally, we look for wrapped high moisture bales, (baleage) which we buy from neighboring dairy farmers to supplement the dry hay that we make. We anticipate using about three hundred round bales to feed all of the cattle and sheep throughout the winter.