Winter feeding practices affect soil fertility and subsequent crop performance

A “pasture walk” educational meeting on June 13 will highlight practices at the U.P. Research Center

What’s happening with your winter feeding lot and soil fertility? Naturally, the area surrounding a round bale feeder receives a concentration of manure and “mulch” from wasted feed. Using the same area all winter or using the same area year after year can result in undesirable soil nutrient loading and smothering of desirable pasture plants due to heavy manure and waste feed cover. Careful and systematic relocation of round bale feeders within the winter feeding lot can minimize this problem. Moving the winter feeding lot around from year to year will also help.

Another option is in-field winter feeding. Rolling out round bales on top of the snow causes livestock manure deposits and wasted feed to be more broadly distributed. Many other benefits, risks and considerations about in-field winter feeding are covered in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s online article Sustainable Management of Nutrients on the Landscape for In-Field Livestock Winter Feeding Systems.

But winter’s over now, and there’s no need to think about your winter feeding program, right? Maybe not! Observing plant growth, or lack of growth, in the winter feeding area can give you hints if changes are needed. While you scrape, haul and spread manure from the winter feeding area, consider how changes that would increase work in your winter feeding practice might balance with reducing spring clean-up work.

At the MSU U.P. Research Center in Chatham, the staff has been rolling out bales of hay on rough pasture fields for the beef herd during the winter months. In addition, trees have been removed to allow more light for pasture growth. The result is that several acres of rough, marginal pasture received a well-distributed application of manure and feed residue. There is a comparison area nearby where no winter feeding was done. Other areas have been leveled with a bulldozer and either left alone or reseeded.

Winter beef cattle feeding site.
Winter beef cattle feeding site, U.P. MSU Research Center, Chatham, MI. Photo Credit: J. Isleib, MSUE.

A “pasture walk” farm meeting will be held on June 13, 2011, at 1 PM at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research Center in Chatham to look over the farm’s winter feeding practices and the resulting impact on pasture performance. There is no charge for the meeting and the public is welcome.

Contact Jim Isleib at or 906-387-2530 for more information.

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