Swath Grazing

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists in Lacombe, Alberta have been working over the past few years to extend the grazing season for beef cattle right through winter using a feed management system called swath grazing. The economic benefits over traditional winter feeding systems are considerable. It reduces labour, fuel, feed and manure handling costs during the winter – which are considerable for beef operations.

Learn more about swath grazing in this video.

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Video Transcript

[An image and a maple leaf appear on screen. This is the title graphic for the video.]

[Light, guitar music fades in.]

Text on screen: Swath Grazing, A winter feeding option for beef cattle

[The video opens with a shot of a single cow grazing in a field.]

Narrator: Cattle a lot of food.

[The shot changes to show a herd of cattle in a field with a rancher on horseback.]

A herd of cattle can eat a ton.

[The shot changes to show a herd of young cattle standing in a pasture during the summer.]

[Light, guitar music fades continues.]

In the summer months, when grazing crops are plentiful, keeping the herd fed is relatively uncomplicated.

[The shot changes to show a cow walking through a snow-covered pasture.]

But keeping a herd fed during the cold winter months is very expensive.

[The shot changes to show the exterior of one of the buildings at the Lacombe Research Centre. The shot of the building suddenly blurs and a map of Canada fades in over top. A star appears to indicate the location of Lacombe, Alberta.]

Text on screen: Lacombe, Alberta

At the research centre in Lacombe, Alberta, researchers are looking at ways to help beef producers...

[The shot changes to show the sign for the Beef Cattle Research group at the Lacombe research centre.]

...reduce these operating costs while continuing to meet...

[The shot changes to show a herd of young cattle in a pasture. There is a man walking amongst them.]

...the nutritional needs of the herd.

[The shot changes to a medium shot of a man standing amongst cattle. He crosses his arms and looks to camera.]

[Light, guitar music fades continues.]

Scientist Vern Baron is one of these researchers.

[The shot changes to show a sign that indicates the winter grazing research area at the research centre.]

He is looking at a new practice called swath grazing...

[The shot changes to show a corn field that has been cut into swaths.]

...that could prove to be very beneficial to beef producers.

[The shot changes to show scientist Vern Baron standing in front of a corralled herd of young cattle.]

Text on screen: Vern Baron, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Vern Baron: Swath grazing is where we grow the crop during the growing season in the summer. We cut it in September.

[Light, guitar music fades continues.]

[The shot changes to show a large field where the crop has been cut but left in the field.]

So it remains in the field over the winter...

[The shot returns to Vern Baron standing in front of the corral.]

...and the cows graze it even under the snow from probably around November until about March every winter.

[The shot changes to show a black cow standing in a field in a snow storm. He is grazing on food that has been frozen for him under the snow.]

Narrator: Swath grazing is just like providing the cattle with frozen TV diners. And they don't mind eating them outside. Cattle usually spend the winters in the cold.

[The shot changes to show a wider view of a herd of cattle grazing on the frozen food.]

More than being convenient, swath grazing provides quantifiable benefits for the producer.

[The shot change to show Cletus Sehn standing in front of swath grazing testing plots at the Lacombe research centre.]

[Light, guitar music fades continues.]

Text on screen: Cletus Sehn, Beef Herd Supervisor, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Cletus Sehn: With swath grazing we're able to extend the grazing season. Which means we don't have to incur the cost of harvesting the feed and transporting it. We're going to bring the cows to the feed.

[The shot changes to show a large combine and a large tractor working to harvest a crop.]

When you don't have to start up expensive machinery and pump expensive diesel fuel into it...

[The shot changes back to Cletus Sehn standing in front of the swath grazing test plots.]

...those input costs when added up over time are huge.

[The shot changes to show a cow eating feed in a corral.]

[Light, guitar music fades continues.]

Cows that stand in a corral are not going to stop doing what they do. That manure needs to be dealt with.

[The shot changes to show a herd standing in an open pasture. We can see their breath and there is a dusting of snow on the ground.]

Bringing the cattle to the feed...

[The shot changes back to Cletus Sehn standing in front of the swath grazing test plots.]

...all of a sudden, now we don't have any manure removal costs. In fact, we have a cost benefit.

[The shot changes to show a slow pan of several small test plots at the research centre.]

We're putting the nutrients back on the land.

[The shot changes to show Vern Baron working in his lab.]

Narrator: Researchers are now working on ways to increase swath crop yields...

[The shot changes to show a close up of Vern Baron breaking a cob of corn in half. He pulls out a single kernel and examines it under magnifying glass.]

...which will deliver yet another benefit to the producer.

[Light, guitar music fades continues.]

[The shot changes back to show Vern Baron standing in front of a cattle corral.]

Vern Baron: As we increase the yield of the crops that we use for winter feed we're virtually reducing the amount of land that we use by about 50% compared to conventional methods.

[The shot changes to show a crop of corn growing in full sun.]

This allows the producer to use that extra land to produce other crops...

[The shot changes to show a field that has been harvested.]

...that might bring in cash flow to his enterprise.

[The shot changes back to show Vern Baron standing in front of a cattle corral.]

[Light, guitar music fades continues.]

We have between 35% and 50% of producers adopting swath grazing. So that's a very successful new practice for people to use.

[The shot changes to show a tractor harvesting test plots of corn on the grounds of the research centre.]

Now we're starting to work with plant breeders in developing varieties and species...

[The shot changes to show some of the various types of corn being testing for viability as swath crops.]

...that will be better suited and higher quality, and maintain their quality through the winter better than we have in the past.

[The shot changes to show a close up of a mesh bag filled with barley. The label on the bag indicates that the barley is being left in the field over the winter to test the effects of the weather on the crop.]

[Light, guitar music continues.]

Narrator: For Canadian cattle producers...

[The shot changes to show a rancher on horseback surveying her herd.]

...smart science is efficient...

[The shot changes to show a close of a cow.]

...and economical.

[Fade to white.]

[Fade up from white.]

Text on screen: Modern. Innovative. Growing. Discover other agricultural innovations at http://www.agr.gc.ca.

[Light, guitar music fades out.]

Text on screen: Canada, © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (2014).

[Fade to black.]

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