Soil health improves with managed livestock impact

CE-MR-Soil Health (cover photo)East Berne, NY — A family, a farm and a flock of sheep is a beautiful thing especially if you’re a soil microbe under a thick, diverse blanket of grass at the Helder-Herdwyck Farm in East Berne, NY.
Hosts Ray, Erin and Rena Bradt opened up their growing operation to 20 farmers and agency personnel for an all-day grazing workshop entitled “Manage Your Livestock So They Work for You”. It was a snapshot of how grazing animals, properly managed, and dialing in adequate pasture recovery times improves the health of the sward while mitigating the parasite presence. The Bradts demonstrated how they took a weedy pasture and scrubby hedgerows and made them into vibrant ecosystems using animal impact and portable flex-netting while feeding the soil manure and trampled forage.
Troy Bishopp, Grazing Specialist for the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and Joe Slezak, Field Manager for the Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District teamed up to show farmers and agency professionals how a planned grazing chart is used to monitor forage growth, rest periods, and take a vacation from the animals. Attendees received a demonstration on utilizing darts for biological monitoring to help manage soil health. They also worked with the attendees out in the pasture estimating pasture dry matter yields and brainstormed management scenarios that build soil health and increase potential profit by using livestock and grazing strategies as tools to develop the farm you want.
“You’ve given us some great ideas we hadn’t thought of, we had some Ah-hah! moments. Although my gut has told me for the past several years what to do as far as adding manure through planned grazing to improve the soil and properly ‘farm’ the plants in the pasture, I was not aware of the many tiny things affected by the process. The deeper rooted plants cycling minerals back to the surface and the other nutritional value of the biodiversity has been an eye-opener. A ruthless invader, knapweed, though very nutritious forage in the pasture, lays waste to a haycrop when it matures — none of our animals eat it at that stage. An exciting result to monitor from our planned grazing was the near elimination of it in the areas managed by grazing, and it isn’t spreading there anymore either. It can be done, no plowing or chemicals were ever necessary, and I have a lush, diverse pasture and happy, healthy lambs to show for it. This is priceless, and such a simple management technique for improving fields. In general, the holistic management approach to decision-making is always surprising me, as it was yet again at this workshop. It can be hard to maintain the whole ‘think outside the box’ and ‘from a different angle’. It’s what is so valuable about getting a group together and having hands on and on-site sessions,” said 2012 Beginning Women Farmer Program graduate, Erin Bradt.
“We are pleased to help sponsor educational events like this to help area producers,” said Susan Lewis, Administrative Manager, Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District.
To learn more about the work of the Bradt family visit www.helderherdwyckfarm.com or www.wrensnestfiberarts.com
Albany County residents who are interested in learning more about grazing management for their own operations are encouraged to contact the Conservation District at 518-765-7923 or email acswcd@gmail.com
The workshop was sponsored by the Hudson Mohawk RC&D Council, Helder-Herdwyck Farm, the Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District and CNY RC&D Council in partnership with the NESARE Professional Development Project: Utilizing Holistic Planned Grazing as a Regenerative Engine for Sustainable Agriculture with additional funding from the New York Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative.

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