Earl McKarns has 150 Angus cows, but never spreads manure and seldom hauls hay.
His cattle graze all winter, utilizing stockpiled grass supplemented by small round bales that remain in the field where they drop from the baler.
McKarns, of Kensington, OH, winters the cattle on 125 acres near a woods that serves as a windbreak. He bales the fescue and orchardgrass in August, then lets it grow for wintertime grazing.
When there's a snow cover, the cows eat the round bales clean, then start grazing under the snow. He says small bales work best for his operation, because there are enough so that timid cows can get hay without being pushed away by boss cows.
The cattle clean up the bales in a day and won't lay on the hay like with big round bales.
He figures a 100-lb bale has enough hay to meet the needs of five cows for a day.
"If a 1,200-lb cow eats 3% of her body weight per day, you'll need about 35 lbs of dry matter," McKarns points out. "If we can get 2 tons of hay and another 2 tons of regrowth per acre after adding 50 lbs of nitrogen, they need to get about 17 lbs of hay off the bales and graze the rest."
He grazes rotationally, using a four-wheeler to move the temporary wire. Rotation improves pasture quality and minimizes trampling of the grass and muddiness, which can be problems with year-round grazing.
Cattle are moved once a day in winter, twice daily in summer. In hot weather, McKarns sometimes moves cattle three times a day to improve forage intake and reduce heat stress. Taller grass in new paddocks shades the ground, so cattle stay cooler when they lay down, he says.
When baling, McKarns strives to make tight bales that shed water. For several years, he used an older-model Allis Chalmers baler, called a Rotobaler, which made bales weighing about 60 lbs. This year he searched for another baler that could make bales small enough to meet his needs.
He had a dealer demonstrate an Abbriata baler manufactured in Italy. It was designed to bale excess forage between grape arbors but has also found a niche in the landscaping industry for pine needle baling.
That baler made small, tight bales, but it cost more than he wanted to spend.
He tried several other balers and settled on a Vermeer model that lets him adjust bale size. The smallest bales he can make with it weigh 100 lbs.