Establishing a woodland winter feeding area | Living the Country Life

Establishing a woodland winter feeding area

Cattle stay warmer in a wooded area and won't need to consume as much feed
Photo courtesy of North Dakota State University

Radio interview source: Steve Higgins, Director of Animal Compliance, University of Kentucky


Listen to the radio mp3 or read below

Cattle maintain body temperature in winter by burning more calories, which means they have to consume more feed. If there isn't a shelter available to keep them warm, livestock producers can feed their animals in wooded areas, which provide a buffer from cold temperatures and wind. This enables cattle to conserve energy and eat less.

Steve Higgins is the director of animal compliance at the University of Kentucky. He says while woodland feeding is a benefit to cattle, all those hooves create a lot of ground damage,  so choose your feeding location wisely.

"Anytime you get cattle in the woods, they're going to end up exposing the roots, and they're going to erode that soil away," says Higgins. "And when they get on the roots, they're basically going to kill the tree. So if the woods have any economic value, you want to fence them off. The other thing you want to do is, because it's a rolling landscape, you want to block off or divert any kind of water heading toward those ditches where that would carry away any kind of nutrients, and pathogens, and sediment."

The fenced-off area should be fairly small, but varies according to the size of your herd. You should allow 300- to 800-sq. ft. per animal.

Higgins recommends scraping off the top layer of soil. Top soil has no strength to it as far as supporting the weight of the animal, especially when the soil becomes wet and muddy.

"Replace that scraped off area with basically what we call geotextile fabric, or cattle carpet is another word for it," says Higgins. "Usually the non-woven fabric type which has got enough strength to it that would support these animals. Then you overlay that with somewhere between 6-8" of what we call dense-grade aggregate rock. That provides a surface those animals can stand on that'll support their weight, and also it's an area where mud's not going to be created."

Ask a local forester to help you find a suitable location.

Learn about reducing winter cattle feed costs

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