We’re here for the amusement of the microbes

CEW-MR-3-Allegany county44by Helen Terry, Grazing Planner for Seneca Trail RC&D Council
ALLEGANY COUNTY, NY — What do sheep, cows, grass, and soil all have in common? According to Dairyman, Kim Shaklee, it’s to “amuse the microbes.” This systems approach was the overarching theme as countless farmers traveled out to the Allegany County countryside joining their conservation and extension educator professionals for two pasture walks.
Both new and experienced grazers joined host Diane Cox of Andover, NY, for a twilight pasture walk to survey newly grazed land that had seen no livestock in many years. Diane, a NESARE-funded Beginning Women Farmer Program graduate, has been implementing holistic management ideas as she grows her flock of sheep. She didn’t set out to raise sheep, but needed a few for training her Border Collie. From there, her flock grew and now Diane says, “It’s all about the land and leaving it better than I found it.”
This is done through careful planning and management of grazing animals with flex-netting to increase manure coverage, trample forage to feed the soil microbes, and give enough rest period between grazing for adequate re-growth and internal parasite control. This is already resulting in improved forage production, fewer weeds, and healthier animals.
Troy Bishopp, Grazing Specialist for the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Helen Terry, Grazing Planner for Seneca Trail RC&D Council, teamed up with Allegany County Cornell Cooperative Extension, NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District personnel took up the topic of improving weedy pastures. Troy’s advice was to look at the weeds (also known as forage to many animals) as a soil and grazing management indicator. He called for farmers to manage for what species they want and not spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on what they don’t want.
The highlight of the evening was watching Diane’s Border Collie move the sheep in and out of the paddock and between the farmers with simply a whistle or word command; Yet another tool in managing livestock.
The following day, many were on their way again to join newcomers at an afternoon pasture walk hosted by Kim Shaklee and Janice Brown of Canaseraga, NY. Experienced dairy grazers, Kim and Janice easily lead the group through many improvements they have made to their dairy farm and what prompted those changes. Due to rising forage costs and inconsistent quality, the decision was made to begin harvesting more of their own forage. Since their soils are considered marginal with slopes and heavy clay they work hard to get the most out of it at the best cost.
One of their newest improvements was to add irrigation to their pastures. Janice says that they have found that the keys to improving production lie with applying lime and water. “Fertilizer is not economical if the pH is not where it should be”, said Janice. As Kim and Janice house their animals outside during the winter, their challenge each year is to utilize the wintering area again during the grazing season. They roll out round bales for the cows to lie on and this spring they planted Italian Rye Grass on that area. After irrigating five times, they began grazing and found they had to balance this high protein grass with “poorer” pasture, alternating after each milking to keep the milk urea nitrogen at an acceptable level.
A highlight at both farms were Diane and Kim’s use of a planned grazing chart after learning about this monitoring tool in a 2012 workshop taught by The Grass Whisperer, Troy Bishopp. Troy demonstrated at each walk how to utilize the grazing chart and tailor it to your farm. Kim has been using his to monitor forage growth and rest periods but has not “figured out how to plan a vacation like Troy does.” Agency personnel also worked with attendees on how to estimate pasture dry matter yields using the Pasture Estimating Device (PED) created by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI).
Stockpiling was also a topic of discussion as a way of extending the grazing season. It’s an art to time pulling the animals off pastures to allow enough re-growth and be of good quality going into November. Troy recommends taking the grass down by Aug. 10 so that it grows nice and green, 60 days before a killing frost. With good planning and management, grazing until the snow falls is not only a possibility, but can effectively reduce stored winter forage needs.
Allegany County residents who are interested in learning more about grazing management for their own operations are encouraged to contact the Conservation District at 585-268-5840, Natural Conservation Resource Services at 585-268-7831, or Cornell Cooperative Extension at 585-268-7644.
These Pasture Walks were sponsored by the Seneca Trail RC&D Council, CNY RC&D Council in partnership with the NESARE Professional Development Project: Utilizing Holistic Planned Grazing as a Regenerative Enginefor Sustainable Agriculture, New York Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Allegany County SWCD & NRCS, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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