Grazing for farm-fresh products

by Sally Colby

Children who show dairy heifers often lead to a life change for a family, and that’s how the Doody family started their own dairy farm.

Although Amy Augur-Doody grew up on a dairy farm in Connecticut, her husband Patrick Doody did not have a farm background. They kept some milk cows and show heifers primarily for their children, who were becoming old enough for 4-H. In the autumn of 2007, when they decided they wanted to have their own farm, they moved to Jordanville, NY and purchased additional cows to fill the barn.

Amy Augur-Doody, Patrick Doody and their children Connor, Jacob and Emma, raise dairy and beef cows as well as laying hens and broilers.
Photo courtesy of Augur-Doody Farm

“We started with seven milking cows and some bred heifers,” said Patrick. “We had criteria we were looking for in cows, but we needed to fill the barn and put milk in the tank. Now we’ve created a herd that’s all registered Jerseys and Holsteins.”

Since two of the Doody children are now old enough to show cattle, the family is adding competitive animals of correct type. “We like cows with strong feet and legs and good udder composition,” said Patrick. “We graze through the summer months, so we need cows that are good grazers.”

The cows are housed in a tie-stall barn, milked twice a day and then turned out to graze. “From May to October they’re out night and day, weather permitting,” said Patrick. “They come in for a mix of corn silage and grain at milking time, then go back outside. In winter, they go out for exercise every day.”

Patrick described the grazing system as intensive rotational grazing, designed to graze cows in one-acre paddocks for 24 hours. “We worked with Herkimer County Soil and Water Conservation to design the entire grazing program,” he said. “For the first three years after everything was installed, they provided assistance as part of the program.” Last year, the program assisted with the construction of additional travel lanes. Laneways were created by excavating the topsoil, laying landscape fabric, then adding stone. Patrick takes advantage of the time spent moving cows to observe for any health issues, sore feet and heat detection.

“They’ve continued to help us improve the pastures and grazing program,” said Patrick, describing the design of the grazing project. “The lanes completely changed the way we farmed – it keeps the pastures a lot healthier. There’s a lot less mud to deal with, and cows are cleaner for a lower somatic cell count.”

The milking herd currently includes 35 cows and the Doodys raise most of their own replacements. “We buy some cows to keep upgrading the herd,” said Patrick. “It’s been our goal to continually improve the genetics in our herd.” The Doodys select AI sires with strong feet and legs, strong udder composition, components and overall type to complement the cows. Patrick said grazing helps retain cows longer in the herd, and has had some remain in the herd for as long as 10 years.

Patrick said intensive grazing involves time and management. “We’re constantly moving fence and measuring grass to make sure there’s enough feed for them,” he said. “Sometimes we have to change plans when pastures grow back faster – the cows end up back in those and the paddocks are better quality.”

Like other graziers, Patrick’s found that grazing is an ever-evolving process. “Sometimes we’re using all 30 paddocks on a 30-day cycle, and sometimes we’re haying some of the paddocks that are farther from the barn and we can keep cows on a 15- to 20-day rotation close to the barn. This year it was wet enough that the pastures kept growing, and it’s better to get them back on when the grass is young and tender.”

The Doodys were scheduled to hold a pasture walk on the farm with NRCS, but the pandemic forced the postponement of that event. “The pasture walks we’ve been to have been great,” said Patrick. “We went to quite a few before we started our project to see if this is what we wanted to do.”

Homegrown forage includes corn silage and baleage from hay ground. Most hay is put up as baleage, especially first cutting, with subsequent cuttings as dry hay if the weather is suitable. Hay usually yields several cuttings, and this year Patrick was able to get a fourth cutting. Some of the hay is taken from pastures when growth is faster than the cows can graze them.

A local custom operator handles corn silage harvest in autumn. The operator has a kernel processor to improve digestibility of corn silage. When sufficient silage is harvested, remaining corn is combined for grain. Cows are fed a partial TMR that includes corn silage, corn meal and grain. Baleage is fed separately.

In addition to the dairy herd, the Doodys have 20 Simmental cattle in a cow/calf system, which helps utilize extra feed. “We’re trying to grow the herd,” said Patrick. “We’re bringing in some feeders until we have enough for the customer base.” The beeves are maintained in a grazing arrangement apart from the dairy herd and calve in early spring. In winter, beef animals have access to a barn. Winter feed for the beef herd includes silage, baleage and dry hay. Feeder cattle are finished in a feedlot area. Since the beef enterprise has proven to be profitable, the Doodys would like to improve the beef housing facilities to create a less labor-intensive system.

The Doody children, Connor, 9, Jacob, 7, and Emma, 4, have laying hens, and the family also raises broilers. Broilers are started in a converted barn with heat lamps, then go outside on pasture in chicken tractors that are moved daily. The Doodys raise 5,000 broilers each year and have them processed at a USDA facility to allow wholesale and out-of-state sales as well as directly from the farm.

Although the family had been selling meat directly from the farm prior to the pandemic, on-farm meat sales expanded significantly in the last 18 months. The family has seen numerous repeat customers who are bringing additional customers. The store also offers products from other local farms and small businesses.

Amy serves as a leader for the Springfield High Meadows 4-H Club, which includes many members from dairy farms. Members who don’t have their own dairy animals can lease animals for projects.

Find the Augur-Doody Farm on Facebook.

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