This month’s Ask the Butcher questions wants to know, “If your cows are 100% grass-fed, what do they eat in the winter when there’s no fresh grass available?”
Great question! This is another question we receive quite frequently. We love our Wisconsin summers, and so do our cows. During the spring, summer and fall months, our cows graze on the luscious rolling hills that make our state so beautiful. But winters can be rough. That’s why our producers work hard during harvest season to ensure cows are meeting their nutritional requirements in colder months without supplementing grains. This is done by producing hay and haylage. Let’s take a deeper look at some of these feeds and how they’re produced.
Hay is a great way to preserve fresh grasses and keep cows healthy in winter months. In Wisconsin, farmers typically seed with a mix of clover, ryegrass, alfalfa and fescue. When forages are at their peak nutritional value, they’re mowed and dried in the field for 3-5 days. Ever heard the adage, “If the sun is shining, make hay?” The sun is an important part of drying the freshly cut forages for storage. Hay typically has a moisture content of 15-20 percent. This ensures that it is dry enough to keep from producing harmful bacteria, but wet enough to avoid combustion. The dried grass is raked in the field and formed into bales for winter storage.
Haylage is made much in the same way hay is, but dried for a shorter period. It typically has twice the moisture content of hay, about 40-60 percent. After the grasses are cut and baled, they are wrapped to eliminate exposure to air. The high moisture levels and airtight environment results in a fermentation process. The fermented forages produce natural acids that preserve the feed throughout the winter. The entire preservation process results in a high-quality feed that provides more nutritional supplementation for cattle.
Thanks for this month’s question regarding winter feeds! Keep those questions coming, Kettle Club Members!