by Troy Bishopp
CANASTOTA, NY — American writer and longshoreman, Eric Hoffer observed, “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” This philosophy seems quite apropos for farmers as well as a country dealing with Coronavirus.
The inspiration of observational learning and ingesting nuggets of practical wisdom from featured speakers, Wisconsin’s Grass-Fed Dairyman, Cheyenne Christianson and Idaho Cattleman, Steve Campbell drew a sold-out venue at the 5th annual 100% Grass-Fed Dairy Grazing Conference held at Theodore’s Restaurant in Canastota, NY. Christianson gave his perspectives on 20 years of no-grain dairy grazing his 180 Holsteins on 280 acres of pasture/hay and the economic picture that keeps his family’s low-debt, organic Grazing Acres Farm mostly self-sufficient. Cheyenne estimates his annual milk production averages about 10,000 lb./cow.
Shipping their milk to Organic Valley’s Grassmilk program, Cheyenne focuses on soil fertility, soil testing, soil biology, pasture plant composition and timely renovation with annuals, grazing practices and forage quality. For Cheyenne, growing high-quality forages begins with soil fertility. His fertility strategy emphasizes feeding the soil biology with high-carbon material to maximize soil nutrient cycling and availability. In Cheyenne’s view, his farm has two sets of livestock — his cows and his soil biology.
He regularly feeds his soil with manures, gypsum, lime, rock-phosphate and trace minerals in an attempt to get more production per acre. “I’m seeing an increase in butterfat (4.6%) in early spring because of the sulfur and boron spread on the land,” he said. “We need to stay vigilant with our agronomy practices because of our sandy soils and the threat of extreme weather events or seasons. Fertile soil produces more in normal conditions but is critical to having production in dry years.”
Christianson’s turn-in height on pastures is taller than most (12-18 inches), varying somewhat by the field composition while aiming for 80% consumption and leaving a residual height that is commonly 4–8 inches. He believes that tall grazing with long rest times between grazing events and longer residual heights contribute to the soil biology and help reduce parasite loads for their farm goals. “The taller sward has been proven to have a better balance of protein, energy and fiber. If the forage quality is not up to par, I alternate taller swards with shorter grass fields daily. I let the cow’s manure be my guide,” said Christianson.
When a pasture or field needs renovating, it’s generally a 2-year affair. Cheyenne amends the soil with winter bedding material from their Coverall building and is typically tilled top 4–6 inches into the soil using a “Howard Rotovator.” Pasture renovation and tillage provides an opportunity to grow about 20 acres of summer annuals as insurance in drought years, as well as to provide high-quality forage in the fall when pasture productivity is typically waning. A common cropping sequence is a field planted in August with fall oats and cereal rye and grazed in October and November, providing high-quality feed going into winter. The following spring, the cereal rye is grazed or cut for bedding. Bedded pack is applied again and rotovated. Japanese millet is seeded and grazed or cut for baleage. Fall oats and cereal rye are planted again in August and grazed in fall. The cereal rye is grazed in the spring, allowing other fields to grow for an additional week or two before grazing. The cereal rye is allowed to regrow and is then cut for bedding. When the pasture is reseeded, Cheyenne uses a mix of alfalfa, ryegrass, red clover, timothy, and often orchard grass depending on the current goals. To follow his full regime of practices visit: https://eorganic.org/node/17431.
“Cattle Coach” and entertainer, Steve Campbell provided an observational, intensive set of lectures and a cornucopia of reality photos that detailed functional cows, swirls, curls, whorls, minerals, epigenetics and human health issues and remedies. Campbell stretched the envelope of conventional thinking with an “OLD” view of how things work in nature. “I want to help you see and understand the indicators today. Every cow or animals tells a story,” said Campbell. “Do you see her story?”
“The hair coat itself is the first indicator of overall health of the animal. Glandular function controls butterfat, marbling, tender meat and fertility. The use of linear measurement accurately and objectively evaluates what the animal is,” quipped Campbell. “It’s a tool to know what animals will work in our environment and how to use the ratios to select for them. Make your herd’s genetic code fit your zip code.”
“The shape of a cow determines if she will be an easy keeper on grass, and let’s face it, as ranchers and farmers, that is our prime resource. As cow/calf producers, we have grass and that is what we need to convert to pounds of sale-able meat.”
Campbell quoted Dr. Michael McDonald linear measurement findings: “40% of difference in profit is fertility on a cow; 30% of difference in profit is in maintenance costs; 20% of difference in profit is in growth and 10% of difference in profit is carcass traits.”
Campbell said, “Environmentally (epi-genetics) our biggest challenges are lack of minerals (In soil and thus in plants) and too many toxins. Minerals from a sea salt “mineral solution” and the detox of a sodium Bentonite clay have proven quite effective for farmers I consult with.”
“A great need to revert back to the artisan gifting of observation and husbandry that only comes with knowledge, understanding and wisdom is warranted. God gave us all a brain with knowledge for our own good and the good of our fellow man,” emphasized Campbell. “Farmers and gardeners need to be “regenerators” of mineral rich soils, free of toxic substances, resulting in healthy plants, animals and humans.” To learn more about Steve’s passion visit; www.tailormadecattle.com
The program also featured Alvin, Raymond and David Stolzfus of Dutch Meadows farm discussing their strategies in producing and direct marketing 100% grass-fed dairy products and dairy farmers, Rob Moore, Ezra Kanagy and Alvin Stolzfus talking about developing good pastures on neglected farms. A local organic lunch was appreciated by guests as well as the many dairy-centric snacks throughout the day.