by Katie Navarra
Introduced to agriculture at a young age, Brett Chedzoy of Watkins Glen, NY, spent much of his youth split between his grandparents’ farms in Kansas and Upstate New York.
In the mid-1980’s, Brett’s parents, Jim and Rose, purchased a small dairy farm from friends who wanted to retire. The cattle were sold and the farm was dormant for nearly two decades until Brett and his wife, Maria Jose, returned to the area in 2002.
The husband and wife team shared a goal of creating a viable business for the farm. Pasture fed beef seemed to be the most practical option given that they were owners of an Angus operation in the Sierra Mountains of Central Argentina on land close to Maria Jose’s family’s beef ranch.
In 2009 the farm in Watkins Glen was officially named Angus Glen Farms LLC. “The name seemed appropriate because we raise black angus cattle and the farm is adjacent to the Watkins Glen State Park the second most visited park in New York State,” he said, “and the original grand prix course (for car racing) also runs through the middle of the farm.”
The Chedzoy’s chose Aberdeen Angus cattle. “Our primary goal is to raise profitable grass-fed beef,” Brett explained, “we feel that these cattle are the best fit for profitable grass-fed production and in order to be profitable in a pasture-based system, we needed an efficient cow that will produce a calf who can reach an acceptable level of finish in less than 20 months.”
The ideal cows in their herd can achieve this production goal on good pasture, hay, some minerals and ample amounts of clean water.
The 200 acres owned by the farm as well as an additional 110 leased acres are divided into 75 distinct pastures for wisely planned rotational grazing. The pastures support approximately 120 head and 80 brood cows. “We plan to grow to 100 brood cows over the next few years,” he added.
Grass-fed with a twist
Working fulltime as a forester for Cornell University Cooperative Extension as well as being active in agroforestry and grazing education, Brett was committed to producing grass-fed beef while incorporating innovative techniques he learned during time spent working as a forester in Argentina.
While in Argentina, he found that ranchers were raising profitable grass-fed beef in wooded areas while simultaneously sustaining healthy, viable woodlots. “The innovative ranchers (in Argentina) were successfully increasing the stocking capacity of their ranches by establishing productive plantations on the native rangelands,” he said.
The Chedzoy’s implemented the technique known as silvopasturing on their ranch in Argentina. Since the practice worked so well there, they decided to manage their herd in Watkins Glen using the same principles.
The practice had become taboo in the Northeast over the past 50 years as foresters and conservationists started to educate farmers on the negative effects unmanaged grazing could have on woodlands. Unmanaged livestock grazing can increase soil compaction, injure valuable trees and reduced the density of natural regeneration in the woodlots.
But what Brett learned in Argentina was contrary to what foresters and conservationists had been teaching. Properly managed grazing in woodlands allows trees to rehabilitate degraded soils and that the foliage provides protection for livestock from extreme weather.
“We adapted the concept to our farm in New York for reasons that include dealing with invasive plants in the wooded portions of the farm; greater animal comfort and performance in the partially shaded silvopastures; and the ability to grow both livestock and quality timber on the same land in a mutually beneficial manner,” he added.
The frequency and intensity of grazing livestock must be strategically planned and carefully managed to be successful and avoid overgrazing. It is important to remember, “from a livestock perspective, the silvopasture is only as good as the quality and quantity of food available to them,” Brett said.
Planning is key to transitioning from traditional grass-fed operations to silvopastures. “Develop a written start-up plan for your project that outlines where, when, why, how and how much you can spend in terms of both time and money,” he advised in a document prepared for the Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
Brett cautions that silvopasturing is not a fit for every farm or forest. “It requires a commitment to caring for animals, managing the woods, and investing in grazing infrastructure,” he added.
For farms interested in learning more about silvopasturing additional resources can be found in the “Guide to Silvopasturing in the Northeast” available under the publications link on at www2.dnr.cornell.edu/ext/info/pubs/index.htm or by talking with other silvopasture practitioners and learning how it has worked for their farm. Find local silvopasturers on www.silvopasture.ning.com
by Katie Navarra