Mohawk Valley Grazers Group met at Scott and Kathie Ryan’s Honorone Farm near Ames, NY, for a pasture walk and workshop sponsored by the Hudson Mohawk RC&D Council, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, with funding from the New York Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative.
Speakers at the event included CCE Regional Field Crops Specialist Kevin Ganoe, CCE Regional Dairy Specialist David Balbian and USDA-NRCS Tom Bielli.
The ability to maintain adequate recovery times for plants was addressed by Ganoe. “Pasture can provide high quality feed for dairy cattle if managed well,” he said.
Honorone Farm, which has been in existence since 1997, manages their grazing pastures with intensive rotational grazing, with the herd of about 80 cows coming in each morning during the summer, receiving TMR twice daily, and turned out into a fresh strip of pasture each evening.
When Scott and Kathie with 6-month-old Justin, began farming the property they knew they wanted to use the rotational grazing method. “It’s been a challenge!” laughed Kathie. “All that was originally here was the tie stall, which was a 60-cow barn, the silos and a really dilapidated house. We knew we wanted to go to a free stall and parlor and we knew we wanted to do rotational grazing — and this land was ideal for it.” Honorone Farm grows all of their own forage.
The Ryans have implemented a 30-day rotation on 40 acres. All strips are divided by break wires and each evening the cows are turned out on a fresh strip. “We go by the calendar, regardless of anything else,” said Ryan. “We make adjustments in the barn if there isn’t enough feed out here.” Pastures that have an excess of forage left over are clipped.
The grain ration remains the same during the summer, but with lower protein.
“One comment I would make,” said Ganoe, “is that I tend to think that people don’t clip enough. A lot of weed issues would be solved if people would just clip more often. Clipping to make sure they don’t come to head to seed, will prevent some of those weeds.”
Most weeds like chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, plantains, sow thistle and bull thistles can be kept down by simply mowing more often.
Applying nitrogen and lime for pH balance was also discussed.
“Nitrogen tends to stimulate grass,” said Ganoe. However, he reported the stimulated grass is likely to take over, pushing out clover. Another thing to consider when thinking of applying extra nitrogen, is whether or not you actually need all of the extra grass. “If you put nitrogen on, you’re going to get a grass response. The question is, do you need that growth?” Ganoe explained that unless the cows were already using all of the pasture or unless you had plans to store the extra forage, you really don’t need to apply extra nitrogen.
Balbian pointed out that nitrogen will also up the protein in forage, which may push the content higher than desired, although it could be a plus if higher protein is actually needed. “Put the odds in your favor in how you manage it,” he advised.
John Kellett, well known and respected organic dairy producer, explained that he was unable to use added nitrogen on his land and had found success with frost seeding clover, which provided the needed nitrogen without the added work and cost of applying nitrogen. “I was putting red clover down, now I’m trying white clover, it has a little higher energy, so I’m putting a blend down.” Kellett said he is trying a new clover by the name of “Alice White Clover.”
Legumes, such as red or white clover “fix” nitrogen, which exceeds their own need and is used by existing grass stands, improving its quality.
Balbian discussed the ability to optimize milk production.
“When it comes to supplementing dairy cows — conventional or organic — with grain while on pasture, the most sound advice I can give is that you need to supplement them based on their individual needs. If a cow is giving 120 pounds of milk per day you need to feed her to support that level of production. On the other hand, if you have a cow making 20 pounds of milk per day you should also feed her to support that level of production. Obviously, with high quality pasture, 20 pounds of production should not require any supplemental grain,” Balbian remarked. “Bottom line, always feed a balanced ration.”
Ryan works closely with the SWCD on grazing plans, waste projects and cropping and USDA-NRCS Tom Bielli spoke with attendees about funding available through the USDA-NRCS. “We have a program, EQUIP, which stands for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. Grazing is one of our focused areas that we spend money on every year, so if your a farm that’s interested in that come and see me.” Farms on wetlands receive priority. Opportunities for organic farms are also included in their programs. Bielli can be reached at 518-853-4015 or email email@example.com .