EARLVILLE, NY — Pablo Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” A NOFA-NY workshop billed as “Making Milk on Grass” found the true gift of pasture craftsmanship right in the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A captivated audience of 70 farmers witnessed an exquisite canvas of beautiful cows, frolicking calves and diverse pastures at the hands and management of “Rembrandt” organic dairy farmer, Dave Stratton.
Stratton’s 200-acre Stone Mill Dairy is home to a 100 percent all-grass, spring seasonal herd of 50 organic crossbred cows, plus replacements, that produce quality milk (10 years of consecutive Super Milk awards) for Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative. The no-grain herd average is 11,500 pounds annually with a hefty 4.8 percent butterfat. “I attribute the health of my cows to grazing taller forage with a substantial ode to the mixtures of forbs they nipple on,” said Dave.
“I invested heavily in soil amendments early on with 1,500 pounds of lime annually until the calcium content was right and with products from Lancaster Ag Products and Dr. Paul Detloff. This long-term strategy has improved all phases of the operation. I can tell it’s working when the cows just walk by the mineral feeder,” said Stratton.
Staff veterinarian for Organic Valley, CROPP Cooperative, Guy Jodarski, was on hand to share his perspective on pasture conditions and animal health. He stresses the biological relationships between soil fertility, forage quality, nutrition and animal health in grazing systems. He was intrigued by the amount of diverse plants and “weeds” the cows picked over.
“There’s a lot of knowledge just by taking the time to watch the cows. See, the nurse calves are stealing grass from their mother’s mouth and learning what foods are good,” said Jodarski. Karen Hoffman, NRCS Animal Scientist also chimed in on the intricacies of grass-based nutrition and the importance of the flora in the rumen as a biological catalyst for soil microbes. Refractometer brix readings confirmed why the cows were eating them as higher sugars were found in the burdock, dandelion and orchardgrass leaves.
The robust calves drew plenty of awes. Dave raises 25 percent of his calves right with his cow herd. He told how important it was to an all-grass operation to raise youngstock that learn how to graze, know the paddock routine and adapt to the environment. They stay with their moms for 4 to 6 months before moving to their own pasture system.
After lunch and a diverse sampling of Organic Valley Cooperative products and educational materials from NOFA-NY, farmers rotated through three discussion stations on animal health questions, dairy nutrition and organic transition and using a grazing planning chart.
EFS Dairy Herd Manager, Fiona Harrar from nearby Hamilton, NY said, “I like seeing how other graziers are managing and having the opportunity to meet like-minded farmers. Learning more about grazing management and the importance of keeping grazing records are key.”
Marvin and Vickie Barron of High Sky Farms in New Lisbon, NY came to learn about organic transition. “We needed to see what it took to be organic grass-fed. It helped to see how other people are successfully producing for this exciting market.”
Nationally acclaimed grazing consultant, Sarah Flack from northern Vermont came five hours south to enjoy the program. “The plant diversity and seeing the magnificent condition of the cows in peak production was a real treat. It was well worth the long drive.”
As is customary for June, the day ended with Dave and Michelle circumventing the salutations in lieu of hay-making. A farmer’s work is rarely done. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” ~ Pablo Picasso.
This event was produced by NOFA-NY with gracious support from Stone Mill Dairy Farm, the USDA-Risk Management Agency and Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative and help from Madison County SWCD and the NYGLC. For more information contact Bethany Wallis, Dairy & Livestock Coordinator at 585-271-1979 or email@example.com .