DELHI, NY — Author and motivational speaker, Richard Carlson believed, “Reflection is one of the most underused yet powerful tools for success.” The Catskill Regional Agriculture Conference held at SUNY Delhi rang in the New Year by sharing seasoned presenters who reflected on the tools for managing the bottom line, nurturing the environment and improving the lives of farmers and their animals.
Given the region’s topography and water quality focus, managing grazing land is always a robust track for farmers to attend. This year’s menu of tools included: bale grazing, maximizing pasture intake, improving pasture quality with grazing techniques and using silvo-pasture to mitigate weather challenges and add a profit center.
Kim Cassano from Bloomville, NY, discussed her Wisconsin and New York farm experience with bale grazing beef and sheep. Bale grazing is a term used to describe a preplanned winter feeding strategy whereby round bales are placed in a grid pattern, on a specific field needing fertility, and rationed out to animals every few days with electrified portable fencing. This approach can be a powerful tool to save labor and fertilize all in one step. She cited that about $30 of fertility per bale is returned to the land with her stocking rate of 30 steers grazing on 25 dry bales per acre. For her 50 sheep it was 35 bales/acre.
“Decisions are based on field information from our nutrient management plan and monitoring the health of the plants to determine which paddocks need help,” said Cassano. “We also consider the site for natural shelter-breaks, accessibility to water and environmental impact. The advantage of bale grazing becomes clear during a snowstorm, when I don’t have to leave the house to feed my animals.”
Brett Chedzoy from Angus Glen Farms, LLC in Watkins Glen, NY, echoed the reduction of human and mechanical energy in transitioning to outwintering and balegrazing. “We just came back from a 30-day vacation in Argentina and all our sons had to do was open a gate to feed the 100 plus cows,” said Chedzoy. He commented that they give the herd a 2-day supply of bales at a time so they don’t waste as much and their eye is always on the 10-day forecast so they can move them to their conifer “living barn” plantations when weather conditions warrant.
With the aid of frost-free waterers over their 270 acres of pastures, impact per field is limited. “The practice protects water quality, improves soil health and cattle health and mitigates having to invest in a very expensive engineered barnyard,” said Chedzoy.
Sarah Flack, Vermont Grazing Consultant and author of The Art and Science of Grazing, inspired the audience to manage and monitor pastures often. “Net farm income improves as you lengthen the grazing season.”
She discussed ways to maximize pasture intake and the importance of biting rate and intake per bite for the ruminant. “The most powerful tool is the pre-grazing height and what you leave behind. Keeping the forage fresh every day with short occupations of grazing animals has a direct correlation to your bottom line and the health of your animals. The most critical mistake is grazing too short and forcing your animals to eat high lignin plants.”
In her advanced grazing workshop, Flack stressed the use of variable plant recovery periods in grazing system planning and implementation. “Too many times we get in a routine or use standard guidelines between grazings and forget to observe the plant growth. Re-grazing a plant too soon can have a detrimental effect on pasture production.”
She shared vivid pictures in using animal’s natural instincts and the use of stock density, trampling, paddock configurations, portable fencing and watering systems to create quality pastures. Clipping, reseeding and adding annuals to the grazing rotation were also considerations as well as the importance and recognition of dung beetles in breaking down fertility.
“Good grazing systems allow farmers to create positive change in their landscapes, livestock and checkbook. As our climate becomes more unpredictable, and the costs of fuel, purchased feed and other farm inputs rise, having a well-designed and well-managed grazing system is essential,” said Flack.
Grazing New York State’s vast cool season pasture resources using management strategies adds opportunity for many farmers to consider in feeding the local foodshed. It’s a tool with possibilities.
For more information on the conference and grazing systems, give the Watershed Ag Council or Delaware County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension Watershed Livestock Educator, Rich Toebe a call at 607-865-7090.