The effect of cattle winter feeding systems on soil nutrients, forage growth, animal performance, and economics
Jungnitsch, Paul F.
Overwintering of cows is a major cost in a cow-calf production system on the prairies. Winter feeding hay and straw directly on pasture is a potentially more efficient and economical system compared to conventional drylot feeding in a yard. The objectives of the research described in this thesis were to compare winter feeding cattle directly on pasture to traditional drylot over-wintering of cattle and the associated mechanized spreading of manure on pasture. This trial compared the effects of winter feeding systems on pasture nutrient distribution, nutrient recovery in soil and forage, pasture forage response, cattle performance, and economics. The experiment was conducted at Lanigan, SK, on an old russian wildrye grass pasture. Pasture nutrient levels and distribution were measured before and after winter feeding, as well as forage yield, and cattle weight and condition. Nutrient capture and cycling was assessed along with the economics of the different systems. In the pasture fed systems, cattle were fed by either bale processing or bale grazing methods over the winter of 2003-2004. Cattle concentration was 2080 cow-days ha-1, with the cattle in the field for 130 d. In the intensive system used for comparison, cattle were fed in a drylot and 67 tonnes ha-1 of raw manure or 22 tonnes ha-1 of compost was mechanically spread on the pasture in the fall of 2003.Soil inorganic nitrogen (N) levels (0-15 cm) measured in the spring where the cattle were winter fed on pasture were 3 to 4 times the unfertilized, unmanured control treatment, with a mean gain of 117 kg N ha-1. Soil inorganic N was not significantly elevated where manure or compost had been spread by machine. Soil extractable potassium (K) was doubled on the winter feeding sites, with a mean gain of 1209 kg K ha-1. Soil extractable K did not increase where manure or compost had been spread mechanically. Soil distribution patterns of both nutrients were highly uneven following pasture feeding, with levels of inorganic soil N ranging from 12 to 626 kg ha-1 and extractable soil K ranging from 718 to 6326 kg ha-1. Additional nutrients in surface residue from uneaten feed, bedding, and manure were also heavy and variable following pasture feeding. Greater retention of N and K from urine added directly to the soil in the field in the bale grazing and bale processing systems compared to the drylot system is believed to be responsible for high soil available N and K levels compared to manure hauled from the drylot into the field.Soil extractable phosphorus (P) levels (0-15 cm) were measured in the fall of 2005. The compost treatment had the largest increase at 2.6 times the control, an additional 46 kg ha-1. Mean soil P levels did not increase significantly where the cattle were wintered. Over 18 months and 3 harvests, forage dry matter yields where the cattle were fed on pasture were 3 to 5 times the control where the cattle were fed on the pasture, and 1.4 to 1.7 times the control where raw manure or compost was mechanically spread. Also, protein content of the forage was increased to a greater extent in the in-field feeding compared to hauled raw manure or compost, reflecting a greater conservation of N.The gain of N in the forage over 18 months on the winter feeding sites was 200 kg ha-1 of N, almost double what was measured in soil inorganic forms. Fourteen kg ha-1 of P was also recovered. This represented 34% of original feed N and 22% of original feed P that was imported into the field. Recovery of nutrients applied in the raw manure and compost sites was much lower, with only 7% recovery of N and 4% recovery of P in the forage. This was calculated to be 1% of original feed N and 3% of original feed P.The system by which the cattle were overwintered had little influence on cattle weight and condition. All systems performed favorably in maintaining body weight and condition over the winter. Some slight advantages in cattle weight gain and condition were found on the winter feeding systems compared to the in-yard drylot that appeared to be related to slightly increased feed intake.Economic calculations favored winter feeding directly on the pasture by 25% over the drylot systems when the feed value of additional pasture growth over 18 months was included and by 56% when the value of additional soil nutrients was factored in. Feed costs were similar between the systems but pasture feeding had savings in machinery use, fuel consumption and manure handling costs, and gains in pasture productivity.Systems that winter fed cattle directly on pasture provided gains in nutrient cycling efficiencies, pasture growth, and economic savings compared to drylot feeding systems, while maintaining similar cattle growth and condition.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
SupervisorSchoenau, Jeffrey J. (Jeff); Lardner, Bart
CommitteeNagy, Cecil; Knight, J. Diane; Iwaasa, Alan; Highmoor, Tim; Walley, Frances L.
beef cattle feeding systems