DEANSBORO, NY – Recently, 38 local New York State Conservation Agency professionals herded up at Bishopp Family Farm for a unique in-field training and “mooo-ving” experience about practical pasture management initiated by seasoned grass farmer and Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District’s resident “Grass Whisperer” Troy Bishopp.
The sold-out training opportunity, funded by the NYS Conservation District Employees Association, engaged new and seasoned Conservation District employees using the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) grazing planning matrix, NYSSWCC field staff, USDA-NRCS and FSA conservation staff, private planners, CCE educators and ag professionals who were interested in understanding the context, tools and application of practical grazing on the ground and helping farmers be successful practitioners within the grazing model.
Troy and his wife Corrine welcomed the group on a picturesque day with a snapshot of the farm’s family history going back to 1890, goals and what a custom grass-finishing beef business entails. There was also a look at the all-important grazing chart and strategic grazing plan, which Bishopp said “is imperative to build resilience, track progress, optimize animal performance, remain profitable, reduce stress and gain camping days with the family.”
The Grass Whisperer introduced a grazing residual trial in which he used a mower to simulate grazing heights from one to eight inches. Professionals learned that the shorter the residual, the slower the daily plant growth and accumulating dry matter forage inventory for future grazing. On the way to the cattle paddocks, Bishopp highlighted fencer technology, tree planting and how paddocks were laid out with watering points.
Kristen Workman, Pro-Dairy nutrient management/environmental sustainability specialist, stimulated minds as she dug around bale grazing spots and addressed soil health indicators as well as the importance of sod cover, soil temperature and achieving improved water infiltration for the ongoing dry period. She also talked about pasture forage, forbs and weeds and what they indicate for a pasture resource.
Bishopp’s favorite pasture routine is getting the group to act like cows to mimic various stock densities within different paddock designs (square vs. rectangular) and seeing how the herd can affect grazing, manuring and trampling impact on the land. Plus it’s just fun to learn techniques that can be used at pasture walks for educational purposes.
Using grazing planning calculation tools and the Bishopp’s beef cattle example as a guide, agency professionals did a ground-truthing forage inventory exercise using a pasture stick and learned the grazing concept – “that ballpark is good enough.” They saw first-hand what the dry matter/ forage availability numbers look like on the ground and how to interpret sizing a paddock for a customer.
The group also learned beef grazing behavior results of various fence movement strategies (daily to multiple moves per day) and which grazing practices achieved what outcome. There was also a discussion about targeting grazing management to optimize grassland bird habitat and wildlife management within the farm’s context.
After lunch, John Suscovich, media guy, Farm Marketing Solutions entrepreneur, Connecticut’s pastured poultry guru and small farm planner, described what small farms need for grazing planning and “a fresh set of independent, technical advisors from the conservation profession to help customers make land management decisions.”
He explained how conservation/agency organizations could market better to the small farm demographic. He dove-tailed his comments with what quality pasture looks like and needs to be “to optimize happiness for broiler and layer chickens.”
The group then met at one of the farm’s main streams to advance discussion on the dynamics of planning a stream crossing and what design criteria should be considered given the watershed above, “which isn’t always correct from ‘stream-stats’ and should be vetted by a field visit.”
Led by Madison County SWCD Technician Andrew Haslauer and Oneida County SWCD Resource Conservation Specialist Tim Wimmer, with experience in the field, they also measured what various buffer widths (35, 50 and 100 feet) looked like, which featured a lively exchange on what professionals could “sell” to landowners.
The group also assessed erosion points, grazing management context, how weather events affect stream morphology, techniques and structural practices that could enhance flood mitigation and what conservation programs could be implemented on site to help the farm maintain its water quality goals.
The group continued up the farm laneway to see the integration of planted shelter-belts (larch, honey and black locust, white pine and sycamore) and riparian buffers adjacent to the pasture system and how the planned areas provide shade, weather protection and enhance the wildlife habitat for granddaughters to explore.
The grazing training was supported by the NYS Conservation District Employees Association (nyscdea.com), Pro-Dairy, Madison and Oneida County SWCDs and Bishopp Family Farm.