Annual crops for grazing no longer just for emergencies

C.B. Moore/2020

If hay has seemed in shorter supply over the last few years, it’s because it has been.

In a recent webinar series exploring grazing cover crops and annual forage, Ontario forage specialist Christine O’Reilly shared a nearly 40 year trend line of both hay production and livestock numbers for the province.

Since the early 90s, Ontario’s hay production has been cut nearly in half. At the same time, the total number of  cows and sheep in the province has pulled back, but not nearly by half. This means that, in the last ten to 15 years, the balance has flipped from a hay surplus to one where hay, pasture, and forage in general are in tight supply.

This shift means that annual forage options and cover crop grazing is no longer only an “emergency” option — O’Reilly says it should be part of the overall forage plan.

O’Reilly’s numbers also show that when you account for yardage and mechanical harvesting costs, using annual forage/cover crop grazing is actually a very cost effective solution for extending feed supplies, which is somewhat contrary to what many have assumed.

There’s a an annual or cover crop option for every part of the growing season, too, O’Reilly says. Fall planted crops can provide early spring grazing or a cut of hay; spring cereals or clover can provide fall grazing options; and spring seeded heat loving crops, such as sudangrass, can fill that hot and dry summer lull in forage growth.

O’Reilly encourages dairy, beef, and lamb producers to think strategically about incorporating annual forages as part of their grazing and haying plan as a great way to extend the grazing season and taking some pressure off of winter feeding supplies.

As for the ins and outs of setting up a cover crop grazing arrangement with grain-growing neighbours, producers are encouraged to attend the next webinar in the series, happening Tuesday, Nov. 17, hosted by the Beef Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Sheep Farmers, and the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

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