Graziers share forage options and grazing management strategies

by Troy Bishopp

BENTON, NY – When it comes to winter grazing or harvesting cover crops with ruminants, “it’s not an all or nothing scenario,” said Russ Wilson, guest speaker at the Finger Lakes Graziers Group winter meeting. “It’s the mindset of gaining as many grazing days as possible using on-farm strategies and reducing feed costs, even though you may feed stored forage or purchased inputs.”

Wilson should know; he’s been reaching over 300 days of grazing with his beef herd at Wilson Land and Cattle Company in Tionesta, PA. He’s been planning out his approaches on less than stellar soils and fertility using combinations of perennial cool and warm season pastures, annuals, cover crops and biological primers infused with timely management. “A low input system requires a higher level of management,” said Wilson. “For us, that means we intensify grazing management and flexibility because our animals and wildlife harvesting grass are so important to the success of our farm.”

Graziers share forage options and grazing management strategies

Harold Schrock talks forage varieties to a capacity crowd of farmers. Photo by Troy Bishopp

Wilson helped farmers see the scope of his management with some great drone footage and provided a practical roadmap of carrying out his typical grazing season with a cornucopia of slides highlighting his many practices. He described the importance of watering points, how to put a fence through and graze 14-foot corn, effectively utilize warm season grasses during the summer, how to stockpile forage use for winter grazing and provided the economics of no-till planting cover crops. In addition, guests enjoyed learning about many of his homegrown, frugal tools, fixes and remedies that help his 220-acre operation stay viable in the face of rising fuel and fertilizer costs. Wilson has chronicled his journey with over 140 videos on his YouTube channel (youtube.com/c/RussWilson/featured).

Deansboro, NY-based farmer and support manager at Cayuga Ag Enterprises Harold Schrock emphasized “the need to manage well” when considering forage seed varieties and planting forage crops. His intimate knowledge of mixes that worked in varying soil conditions and on his farm was appreciated by farmers. He discussed using grazing mixes, cover crop blends, spring, summer and fall annuals and interseeding covers into 60-inch corn rows along with grazing shrub willows, chicory and alternative species that improve soil health.

His message was to “build wealth all year” by increasing the photosynthetic capacity of growing plants as much as possible during the year and fertilizing properly to ensure that mineral nutrition is not the limiting factor for a profitable farm. Schrock’s practical message resonated well that nature was created to function regeneratively and that management solutions often outperform technical solutions.

A farmer panel led by James Weaver rounded out the meeting with discussions on calf rearing and utilizing nurse cows, dairy genetics that work well within a pasture setting and the proliferation of an A2A2 milk market.

The day was supported by the Finger Lakes Grazing Group, ABS, King’s AgriSeeds, Yates County Soil & Water Conservation District, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, Martin’s Seed Feed and Supplies, Wood-view Animal Health, Organic Valley and Maple Hill Creamery.  To get on the grazing group’s mailing list and newsletter for this year’s upcoming pasture walk schedule, call James Weaver at 518.526.7029.

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