HIDDENITE, NC – On a recent late summer evening, a North Carolina Extension-organized forage tour took place in the Tar Heel foothills, in eastern Alexander County, near the border of Iredell County.

One of the featured producers was Red Rock Farm, owned by Brandon and Allison Brown. The Browns highlighted their experience with rotational grazing and multi-species grazing.

By not practicing continuous grazing, Brandon said, “the quality of the forage is a lot better.”

The couple, who each have ag-related public jobs (Allison is Alexander Co.’s ag Extension agent for Livestock, Forages & Row Crops), operate the farm along with their sons Weston and Garrett.

The family is able to keep 55 cows on a 90-acre piece of ground by dividing it into 12 pastures. They move the herd to a new pasture every four to seven days.

“When you’re able to graze each pasture seven days, with 12 pastures, that’s an 84-day cycle,” Brandon said.

The Browns also feed hay before all of their standing forage is consumed.

“I’d rather unroll hay in October when it’s 55º and dry than later on when it’s wet and cold,” he said. “When it’s like that I’d rather let the cows have stockpiled grass.”

Forage field event showcases advantages of rotational grazing

Over 40 people attended the evening forage tour in North Carolina’s Alexander County. Photo by Karl H. Kazaks

The Browns do not use hay rings or a hay wagon. Instead, they unroll hay on the ground, changing the feeding location daily, to help with broader manure deposition and to limit the adverse effects which come to sod when a more permanent feeding arrangement is used.

A benefit to unrolling hay regularly, Brandon said, is “you’re able to see your cattle up close and personal.”

Unrolling hay, he observed, also makes it “easier for calves to get at the hay,” as opposed to feeding out of a ring or wagon where calves have to compete with larger animals for access to their food.

One thing the Browns would do differently is install an additional pop-up waterer in the livestock watering system. The relative cost to the overall outlay is minor, they pointed out, so if you do install a livestock watering system make sure you have all the features you want.

Together with their beef cattle – which was mostly Angus until the family recently bought a herd comprised of mixed breeds – the farm also has 60 Katahdin x Dorper ewes. Because sheep and cows graze different forage species, there is no production loss by grazing them together – only a productivity gain.

Because of the family’s busy lives, they are only interested in raising hair sheep. They don’t want to have to shear.

In addition to their pasture animals, the Browns also raise pullets for Mountaire Farms.

Next year, NC Extension aims to put on a demonstration showing how the Browns are able to manage their public jobs along with all the aspects of their own farm.

by Karl H. Kazaks