I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that grazing animals can survive and thrive on winter forage alone. I’ve heard from a few people that the winter grass beneath the snow is more nutritious than hay. But of course that begs the question, what grass are we talking about? And what hay? And how deep is the snow?
Ulf Kintzel has written some really interesting and nuanced articles for Cornell’s Small Farm Program site, which I highly recommend, particularly, “Considerations for Winter Grazing Your Sheep”. I’m somewhat dizzied by the number of variables involved in winter forage approaches, from the texture and depth of the snow cover, to the length of the forage at the time of the snow, not to mention keeping water available on the field in frozen temperatures. As farmers, we surely want to give our animals access to consistent, accessible nutrition throughout every season, and hay is a dependable way to do that.
At the same time, as we look at the sustainability and impact of our farm, making hay is, by any measure, a resource-intensive process. It’s one that I’m nostalgic and emotional about because it’s a beloved family tradition—but it also burns a heck of a lot of diesel fuel and requires a collection of high-maintenance heavy equipment. Electric tractors are coming, which is great, but I wonder how many small farmers will be able to afford them. I have to wonder, could we learn new ways to maintain a healthy flock without hay, or with a lot less of it, in the future? I don’t know the answer yet, but we’ll keep you posted. https://jmcd.me/2PltAxH