Helping livestock producers to reduce costs and improve farm efficiency this winter

Cow in winter field

Rising costs mean outwintering of livestock is becoming a popular option.

Given that so many costs associated with keeping livestock over the winter have increased substantially recently, most livestock farmers are looking for different ways to manage this challenge.  Along with additional benefits, outwintering of livestock is becoming a popular option for many producers that we work with.  For some this means that housing is delayed by a number of weeks, while for others it may mean the animals are outside all winter. 

There are various methods to outwinter livestock; some are innovative and low cost - for example, winter grazing of arable cereals, deferred grazing, bale grazing, direct drilling quick growing crops into standing arable crops, and grazing fodder beet in situ, to name a few.  The success of outwintered systems for ruminants requires a mixture of both careful planning and good stocksmanship.

When outwintering livestock, some key considerations to think about include animal requirements, animal performance, the weather, the environment or diet transition.   With costs rising across the industry, outwintering methods should be run as efficiently as possible, to maximise the utilisation of crops and minimise waste.

In practice, outwintering systems require careful planning and a period of transition for animals to allow their rumen to adjust to a new diet.  An understanding of mineral requirements and any potential health issues is hugely beneficial to ensure that the animals have access to all of their requirements.

Often, additional forage is required to implement outwintering systems, such as forage crops or bale grazing. To reduce damage to the soil through use of heavy machinery, we recommend that wrapped bales should be placed, when ground conditions are favourable, into over wintering fields prior to the winter. 

These bales should be strategically aligned with the calculated daily break for the class of stock that will graze the crop.  Similarly, daily breaks should be calculated to allow for accurate planning. The process typically begins with understanding the dry matter yield of the crop and knowledge of the grazing animals’ potential daily dry matter intake.  Simple calculations such as these can vastly reduce wastage, enhance animal performance and, in turn, enhance margins.

There are many advantages to outwintering livestock on grass and arable land, provided that the animals’ core requirements are being met.  These include:

  • Reducing winter feed costs, especially that of purchased feeds
  • Reduced housing requirements, taking the pressure off shed space
  • Increasing the production per hectare on farm
  • Enhanced soil fertility
  • Improved animal health and welfare, with animals being less prone to respiratory disease
  • Reduction in the cost of bedding, running of machinery and labour
  • Fertilisation of land through animals self-spreading their manure.

It is vitally important to have a contingency plan for events such as snow fall, high rainfall, etc. which may make outwintering systems unpractical. 

The SAC Consulting livestock team has created a booklet for livestock producers to aid decision making with guidance on simple calculations and requirements. SRUC farms have been using outwintering methods for beef, dairy and sheep enterprises including grazing arable cereals at Craibstone in Aberdeen, bale grazing dairy heifers at Barony in Dumfries, and growing catch crops in standing crops at Easter Howgate in Edinburgh.  Practical examples from this are detailed in this free resource.

To read more on outwintering strategies, download the booklet and get in touch with the team on if you have any queries.

Posted by Kirsten Williams on 25/10/2022

Tags: Agriculture, SAC Consulting
Categories: Consulting and Commercial | Natural Economy