DEANSBORO, NY — Just as squirrels salt away nuts for winter, farmers are also learning to store stockpile forage for late season harvest. This topic took center stage as 50 farmers from New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Ontario, Canada descended on the Bishopp Family Farm in Deansboro, NY to see the art and science behind stockpiling pasture and how to efficiently graze with this cost-saving practice.
By definition, stockpiling is the practice of allowing plant growth to accumulate in the field during the growing season — generally in the fall — for grazing during the late fall and winter. While it sounds simple enough, “Stockpiling quality, grazeable, cool-season plants doesn’t just happen, it must be planned to happen,” said farm manager, Troy Bishopp, aka the Grass Whisperer. That planning for this professional contract grazier of 17 years, comes in the form of a holistic planned grazing chart where he strategically implements and monitors the movement of the herd of organic dairy replacements through the 27 paddocks encompassing 160 acres of owned and leased grazing land.
“I’d just be lost if I didn’t have that handy chart in front of me every day to make long range plans and forecast grass growth by watching the weather and adjusting grazing strategies,” said the Whisperer. For the benefit of the guests, Bishopp had three years of grazing charts open for inspection so others could learn and see how the grazing system worked through the 2012 drought and the 2013 flooding rains. “I like the simplicity of this pasture record-keeping tool,” said Canajoharie, NY, farmer, Marcus Beiler.
With a convoy of farmers ascending to the top of the farm at 1,100 feet overlooking the Mohawk Valley, the group got a field by field glimpse of stockpiled grasses, clovers and forbs. The chart-wielding Bishopp described how many days each field had been rested and what kind of grazing practice was used. “I use Aug. 10th which coincides with Empire Field Days, as my stockpiling starting point, because it’s usually 60 days before our killing frost date of Oct. 10th. With our recent killing frost on Oct. 28th this year, we’ve been able to get a lot of growth. Maybe climate change can be good,” said Troy.
Guests were appreciative in seeing first-hand, the results of 2012 winter feeding strategies impact on the land. The grass whisperer showed the effects of bale-grazing, rolling out hay, wagon feeding and mob grazing. These practices each had challenges and opportunities but all increased soil organic matter levels and added plant diversity.
Standing in an 86 day old, 16 inch sward, the discussion trended toward how to best utilize this accumulated forage. Conversations and opinions focused on strip-grazing the available forage with portable electric fencing whereby allocating one day of feed for the animals. It was then suggested to use daily smaller, multiple fence moves to maximize forage intake, decrease trampling waste and concentrate fertility. Then again it was debated as to how much residual should be left behind for the health of the plant, soil biology and next year’s growth. Quoting Canadian rancher, Steve Kenyon, “As much as your bank account will allow.”
The lively banter extended to an exercise in measuring pasture production using a NYS GLCI grazing stick and figuring out the area that would feed the herd of 70 dairy heifers for a day. By multiplying the height of the grass (10 inches) and plant density (200 pounds dry matter/inch/acre), the graziers determined that about an acre would suffice and actually set up the fence and moved the animals under the watchful eye of all the new grazing specialists. It was a good chance to view the animal’s health and grazing behavior patterns.
As the herd grazed, other topics such as winter watering strategies, shelter, sacrifice areas, hedgerow plantings, grassland bird management, summer pasture fallowing and grazing riparian areas took center stage. Troy described his family’s farm of 20 paddocks as a whole ecosystem in which diversity pays. He attributed his practical knowledge of stockpiling and season extension to mentor and grazing consultant, Jim Gerrish. “Jim’s book, Kick the Hay Habit is a must read for anyone who want to reduce feed costs and stimulate thinking,” said Troy. “It has helped our operation and our grazing customers save money, period.”
Knowledge gained in the field was only enhanced by a roaring fire, hot chocolate and a hearty, delectable lunch made by Corrine Bishopp featuring the farm’s grass-finished beef with all the fixin’s, Springwood Dairy’s organic cheeses and yogurt and an all you could eat ice-cream sundae bar highlighting Waterville’s own Rock-Star Ice-Cream which included a special pasture blend of green color and chocolate cows.
David Banbury traveled 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Ontario, Canada to attend this farmer friendly event. “I wanted to see how stockpiling worked in a climate similar to mine. The conversations among my peers and seeing the forage growth and rest periods match the grazing chart really reinforced things for me. I found the different opinions and trade-offs in leaving grass or grazing it all off, quite profound. It was definitely worth the trip.”
Young farmers, Nicholas and Sarah Schuler of Schuler’s Heritage farm in Hannibal, NY, found the experience enjoyable. “We saw the Stockpile Saturday event as a practical, grazing lesson and a great opportunity to learn how to extend our pasture season. We love seeing what is possible as the land responds to the management techniques and appreciate the perspectives from other farmers realizing there are no wrong answers because all farms have different goals. The food was outstanding and Troy’s approach to sharing his wealth of knowledge in an entertaining way made the day memorable.”
Gracious support for this event was provided by Lee Publications, Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) in partnership with the Northeast Center for Extension Risk Management Education & USDA/NIFA under award number 2012-49200-20031, Springwood Organic Dairy Farm, Sugar Daddy Ranch, Clinton Tractor & Implement Company, Williams Fence Company and Cazenovia Equipment Company.
For more information go to www.thegrasswhisperer.com, or www.cnyrcd.org/planned-grazing-participants/