DEANSBORO, NY — Fifty hearty farmers from Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York braved downpours and cold temperatures to learn, discuss and verify that forward grazing planning does meet the realities of extending pasture resources into the winter season.
The goal for the day at the Bishopp Family Farm was to show others that it’s possible to increase grazing days, reduce wintering costs and maintain animal performance by using holistic planned grazing management principles and decisions to implement a stockpiled grazing program.
“It’s been quite a while since April 10, when the grazing season started, said grazing manager and resident, grass whisperer, Troy Bishopp. Back then the goal was set in motion for our organic dairy replacement contract grazing business to graze animals till the 5th of January 2015. We were a bit apprehensive if it would come to pass or was a hopeful premise?”
“We had a good grazing season this year and plenty of timely rains. Because we are striving for more non-growing season forage we have to really balance animal numbers with the land base so we can build our grazeable ‘haystack’ on enough acres to give us 60 to 90 days of feed after our frost date of Oct. 10,” said Troy. “It takes planning, monitoring, thinking and flexibility to adopt this longer view of grazing. The final plan came together on Sept. 22 when we inventoried all the paddocks forage dry matter and came up with 134 tons of standing pasture, enough to feed the stock till Jan. 5, 2015.”
The farmers saw day 50 of the farm’s pasture rotation with 60 head of 900 pound bred heifers receiving about an acre of grass per day. The grass the cows were grazing was still green and holding a relative feed value of 127 even after 100 days of rest. Owner of the heifers, Roman Stoltzfoos of Springwood Dairy Farm in Lancaster, PA, commented that they looked in great shape, even kidding that they looked like they had been fed grain.
The group discussed how paddock shapes change grazing efficiency and trampling impacts, if the grazing residuals were adequate and saw how rain and mud makes you mindful to be flexible in stock density so the animals don’t harm the land. They also had a chance to help Troy predict, debate and allocate the next day’s feed break according to their varying grazing experiences.
As the rain intensified, it was a good time to look at one of the farm’s stream corridors and discuss buffer dynamics, vegetative cover and strategies to manage the riparian area. They saw how various buffer widths would impact their farmland if they chose to commit to an agency sponsored buffer program (100 feet to 30 feet).
Troy has taken the approach to manage these areas with portable fencing, limited access, short grazing events and long recovery periods in keeping heavy sod cover on them. “Every situation and land feature is different and we manage accordingly. We have wetlands, wooded corridors and open areas which all play into the diversity and the biology of our farm streams. We need these features along with a well-managed grazing system to keep water quality high,” said Bishopp.
The crowd hoofed over to the paddocks that will be grazed in the next 30 days to measure the dry matter, take a forage test and study the biological life in the soil under the 130 day old stockpile. It was evident that if the December weather cooperates there will definitely be feed till New Year’s Eve.
The cold, rainy conditions finally signaled everyone to move to the Deansboro Congregational United Church of Christ for a homemade lunch. Guests enjoyed a delicious vegetable beef and potato soup with all the fixin’s made with ingredients from the farm and prepared by the Bishopp Family. Cheese and organic yogurt were provided by Springwood Organic Dairy Farm. The pasture walk wasn’t complete until the all-you-could-eat ice-cream bar opened up featuring Oneida County’s own Mercer’s Dairy Inc.
After lunch and some excellent networking time, Troy discussed using his grazing chart, the contract grazing business, measuring forage quality and led a question and answer session that dealt with farmer’s observations from the day and specific grazing topics.
“The best thing about Troy and the people I met is that they realize the need to be flexible in dealing with grazing issues and you have to do what works for your farm and family,” said Pat Maxwell of Middleville, NY.
“I learned that cattle can be a powerful force for the ecological and economic bottom lines when their impact is carefully controlled,” emphasized Meg Grzeskiewicz from the Rhinestone Cattle Company in Colden, NY.
Scott Danner of Schoharie, NY, summed up the day by saying, “It was very beneficial to see the realities on the farm which reinforces the need to keep learning more about implementing a long range grazing plan. The conversations with other farmers were extremely beneficial.”
Gracious support for this event is being provided by Maple Hill Creamery in Stuyvesant, NY, Lee Publications, a USDA-NRCS CIG grant focused on energy savings through holistic planned grazing and management through the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) and Springwood Organic Farm.
To follow the ongoing grazing project visit www.thegrasswhisperer.com or Onpasture.com