If you’re no-tilling but still looking for ways to reduce winter feed costs for cattle and improve the bottom line, take a serious look at grazing cover crops and crop residue and shifting calving timing to when cool-season grasses are available, says Kris Ringwall.

Doing so could open the door to more extended grazing and less need for harvested forage, says the beef specialist for North Dakota State University Extension.

The Dickinson Research Extension Center in North Dakota has embraced the delayed calving season, he says, turning bulls out Aug. 1 to allow cattle to graze longer because the third trimester didn’t start until mid-February, which means an opportunity to cut winter feed costs.

Visiting scholar Songul Senturklu and Center animal scientist Doug Landblom say they cut the cost of traditional confined forage feeding by 33- 67% when incorporating late-season grazing of cover crops, winter grass and crop residue.

Total winter feeding costs per cow were $208.81 for traditional hay and supplement feeding, $140.59 for adding cover crop and crop residue prior to winter feeding, and $73.33 for adding stockpiled grass and corn residue.

Beef, in many respects, is a product of cropping systems that are enhanced by the addition of cattle to the crop rotation to maintain healthy soil, although that statement sometimes is forgotten in the discussion, Ringwall notes.

Loving, Texas, no-tiller and rancher Max Martin certainly hasn’t forgotten about it. As you’ll read in this week’s main feature, Martin has shifted his ranch to spring and fall calving and incorporated multi-species cover crops into his operation to provide an additional forage source.

He’s seeing improved forage optimization and economics that he never really anticipated, and is improving soil organic matter and reducing compaction issues as well.

There’s no denying making major changes like this could take several seasons, and it’s not easy. But in the long run it could lead to a lot more favorable balance sheet and that’s certainly worth it.