Windrow Grazing Alternative to Feeding Hay

Windrow Grazing: An Alternative to Feeding Hay in the Fall and Winter

September 2013

Advantages to Windrow Grazing

Calf grazing windrow corn fieldHarvested feed costs can be one of the largest expenses to cattle producers. Windrow grazing, sometimes called swath grazing, is a management practice that can significantly reduce harvesting and feeding costs. Swathing the crop and leaving the windrows in the field provides several advantages.

  • Eliminates the costs of baling and hauling bales off the field.
  • Reduces labor and equipment costs associated with feeding.
  • Returns some nutrients and organic matter from consumed forage back to the soil where the crop was grown.

Precipitation Patterns Support Windrow Grazing in Central and Western Nebraska

In Nebraska, 75-80 percent of seasonal precipitation falls in the six-month period from April through September. Only 20-25 percent of precipitation falls from October through March. This seasonality of precipitation allows for swathing forage crops in early fall and preserving them through the fall and winter with minimal deterioration in quality due to weathering.

Across Nebraska, the average amount of precipitation increases from west to east. Greater average precipitation in eastern Nebraska does increase the risk of windrow deterioration compared to drier conditions in western and central Nebraska.

Snowfall from October through March can be quite variable; however, extended periods when snow cover would prevent windrow grazing are limited.

A webinar titled Windrow Grazing in Nebraska is available that highlights more of the details of using this management practice. (NOTE: webinar was updated April 2015.)

A UNL NebGuide Windrow Grazing (PDF version, 623KB) is also available as a resource.

Aaron Berger, UNL Extension Educator
Panhandle Research and Extension Center
University of Nebraska–Lincoln