by Troy Bishopp
LATHAM, NY — A decade has zipped by since the idea of a Winter Green-Up Grazing Conference became a reality for Beef Farmer, Morgan Hartman, aka “Graze-heart” and Albany County Cornell Cooperative Extension’s “semi-retired” livestock educator, Tom Gallagher. The passion and countless hours dedicated to their craft of helping other farmers learn the nuances of grazing management and livestock production has reached literally thousands of practitioners around the Northeast.
You might remember the notable speakers who contributed to the 10 year success such as Joel Salatin, Kit Pharo, the late Terry Gompert, Jerry Brunetti and Allan Nation, Dr. Allen Williams, Chip Hines, Greg Judy, Kathy Voth, Steve Kenyon, Neil Dennis and Chefs Jeremy Stanton, Michael Niccoli and Brian Alberg. These robust workshops and social networking opportunities over first-class food helped the Century House provide one meal in each guest’s honor through its “Enjoy One Share One” program. This initiative has donated over 750,000 meals free of charge to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
This year’s compact day of enthusiastic grazing knowledge continued the tradition with presentations on the benefits of multi-species grazing, crop insurance, meat marketing and managing extremes with mob grazing strategies. According to Hank Bignell, Sr. Livestock Resource Educator with the Capital Area Agricultural and Horticultural Program, the lineup was selected from surveys taken from previous conferences. “We strive to deliver what the attendees want more information about,” he said.
Cumberland Valley Pennsylvania Farmer, foodie, blogger, writer and cook, Sandra Kay Miller electrified a capacity crowd with multi-species grazing strategies from her 65-acre, Painted Hand Farm, where she raises pastured poultry, pastured raised lamb, naturally browsed goat meat, humanely-raised rose veal, pastured pork and liver bits pet treats. “The benefits of having many interrelated enterprises are a reduction of risk and parasite loads, more robust ecosystems, longer grazing seasons, animals that learn from each other and I’m able to withstand weather and market extremes,” said Miller. “Always remember to be flexible.”
Known at the farmer’s market as the “Goat Lady”, Sandra uses a combination of pastures, woodlots, cover crops, crop residues, orchards and targeted browsing on public and private land to feed her livestock. “I can literally turn weeds into dollars,” she said. “I use mostly portable fencing and portable infrastructure that similar species can use and who return the highest profit per unit. My “hoop coop” can even double as a toddler’s playpen.”
This lean strategy allows her to react positively to her customer’s needs at the Bethesda Maryland Central Farm Market, buyer’s clubs in Chambersburg, PA, restaurant accounts and on-farm sales. “The key for me is to try and add value to every enterprise. Whether it’s making sausage from ground pork and veal and selling it for $12/lb. or planting zucchini squash specifically for the meat chickens to peck (cause it makes them taste extra yummy) and adding more dollars per pound.” Sandra believes in the power of clean food, local economies and ecological restoration using new and innovative methodologies to help feed her community.
MacKenzie Waro, Livestock Processing and Marketing Specialist with the Harvest New York team introduced farmers to a survey with Tufts University on the meat packing industry consisting of 53 USDA plants in New York and New England. “We identified two major pinch points for processing meat animals; the ability of producers to pay on time and limited cooler space at the plants.” said Waro.
In the USDA/NIFA grant, 2016-68006-24744: Overcoming Supply Chain Barriers to Expanding Northeast Ruminant Meat Production; four hypotheses will test the question of regional processing limitations: 1) Sufficient aggregate capacity is available to slaughter/process all animals sold in the Northeast; 2) Demand exceeds capacity in certain seasons; 3) The spatial distribution of slaughter/processing infrastructure leaves areas underserved; and 4) Biological capacity exists to expand grass based meat production. The objective is to improve understanding of both constraints and potential capacity among producers, processors, and policy makers and develop strategies for confronting barriers and realizing capacity for production.
Charismatic, Canadian custom grazier, direct marketer and grassfed livestock farmer, Brian Maloney hailing from Thurso, Québec, introduced fellow farmers to his holistic grazing management strategies on his and wife, Lise’s, 300-acre Ferme Brylee farm. “We are in the energy business. Anything that doesn’t enhance the capture of free solar energy (sun) or doesn’t increase the harvest of energy (grass) is an expense that costs us time, energy and money,” said Maloney. He fashions his grazing philosophy from South African Rancher, Ian-Mitchell Innes, who treats trampling a portion of the sward as a resilient, soil builder.
The internationally-acclaimed, Maloney, described how he has successfully weathered severe droughts and record rainfall using a high-density mob of animals moved several times a day. He showed guests what his stock density of 100,000 lbs. of beef/acre and 640,000 lbs. per/acre looked like. “If you take more than 50 percent of the plant you are slowing down the roots, which slows recovery time. We like taking 30 percent and moving off, leaving plenty of armor for dry periods or plenty of residual to keep the plants growing and a cushion during rain events. It’s always a balancing act that takes a certain amount of “land lingering” to see the subtle improvements that grazing management can make. The best piece equipment on the farm are my footsteps,” said the grass aficionado.
“I was blown away from the panel of speakers this year,” said Hank Bignell. “The positive feedback from farmers was overwhelming. Providing educational material and seeing successful changes from attending this conference are just amazing.”