Winter Feeding Areas for Livestock

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

As we move into colder weather, it is time to think about strategies for winter-feeding of livestock, since it is a necessary part of nearly all operations. Choosing the right location for winter-feeding can improve production and reduce threats to water quality. A poor location for winter-feeding can negatively impact both soil and water quality. 

A significant amount of run-off can occur if winter-feeding is conducted around streams, ponds, or other environmentally sensitive areas such as flood plains and creek bottoms. Storm-water runoff from these areas can carry mud and manure into nearby water bodies, creating water quality problems. If these pollutants can be traced to a specific operation, the owner could be subject to fines from regulatory agencies. 

To choose a proper location for winter-feeding, producers should follow a few simple steps. First, feed in well-drained locations. These should be areas that don’t allow runoff of mud and manure to drain into neighboring properties, streams or ponds. The farther from surface or ground water resources, the better, as it is less likely for water pollution to occur. 

Next, producers should consider using confinement feeding allowing cattle to access a structure or paddock for feeding but then return to a larger pasture. These smaller “sacrifice” pastures reduce the area damaged from winter feeding and can be used as central hubs for multiple pastures as part of a rotational grazing system. Place water and mineral supplements away feeders, so cattle will be enticed to eat at the feeder and then move out and away to water and minerals. This will help lessen the volume of manure at the feeding areas and spread it throughout the fields. 

Finally, heavy-use area pads around winter feeding areas are a worthwhile investment and can greatly reduce mud and rutting from tractor and hoof traffic. These pads are constructed using geotextile fabric, crushed stone and dense grade aggregate. 

By making these considerations for winter feeding of livestock, producers can greatly reduce the potential to contaminate water resources and can improve production.

Damon Pollard
Extension Agent