Originally published on October 19, 2006


Feed and pasture are typically two-thirds of the annual cost of keeping a cow and the winter feed portion is two-thirds of that total.  For this reason ranchers are quick to harvest any surplus forage in the summer months since they know it will be used up later in the winter season.

Stacking hay or silage is the oldest means of storing surplus forage.  While I have outlined baler costs in a previous column, typically the cost of cutting, baling and handling will be close to 50% of the value of the hay or silage.  Lorne Erickson a Beef Forage Specialist, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada states that “mechanical storing forages for winter use will generally double their cost.  For example, when standing forage has a value of 1.5 cents per pound, similar quality baled hay is about 3 cents per pound.”  While no one is suggesting that the haystack will go the way of the dinosaur, the hidden yardage and manure handling costs are motivating several ranchers to reconsider the size of their feed pile in their feed yard.

An increasing number of livestock producers are implementing swath grazing as a means of reducing their costs and extending their grazing season.  Cereals, millet and second-cut alfalfa are often swathed and left in the field for the cattle to graze during the winter months. While you and your neighbors bring your



herd into the feed yard for the winter, there is a growing number of livestock producers who instead put their critters in electric fence paddocks of swathed green feed. The herd feeds itself and fertilizes the ground in the process.  When the cattle have eaten up their feed-swaths, they are moved to a new paddock of fresh snow and fresh feed.

To date, swath grazing has generated considerable enthusiasm.  What's all the fuss?  Do the per acre winter feed costs vary significantly?   In table one, I have laid out my assumptions.  Let's assume that we have two ranchers one who is planning to swath graze his green feed barley while the other is planning to bale, stack and haul his green feed back to his feed yard.

In closing the implementation of a swath grazing program will lower your winter-feeding costs since swath grazing “buys” grazing days and reduces the number of days your cows will be looking to you to put on your parka, start up the tractor and bring them their breakfast, lunch and supper.


Allyn Tastad, chartered professional accountant, is a partner in the accounting firm of Hounjet Tastad Harpham in Saskatoon at 306-653-5100, e-mail at or website All data and information provided is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that laws and regulations are subject to change. Consult your accountant for current professional advice tailored to your situation.