Solving the permanent pasture puzzle

By Nathan Weaver, Canastota, New York — Slowly the puzzle of proper grass production from semi-permanent pastures appears to be pieced together.

In the last decade we removed our farm from a forage/grain operation to a forage-only farm. We placed a heavy emphasis on forage harvestable by grazing cows.

Initially we looked at the new varieties of seed that had become recently available. These grass and clover seeds took us a long way beyond what we thought were the perimeters of grazing at that time. Quality feed and good summertime production were the standout improvements over the traditional forages available to us previously. Continue reading “Solving the permanent pasture puzzle”

Opitz on grazing: Keeping up with spring grass

Spring pasture management may be the most difficult task in farming. The weather is so variable that a management tactic based on calendar dates and specific strategies that worked last year may fail miserably this year. Grass availability can turn from shortage to surplus in the space of a few days, and it can rain on that surplus for days at a time. Mistakes and bad breaks in spring can haunt grass farmers through the rest of the year, with poor summer production and lots of poor hay in storage. Yet fortune and good strategies can you give your pastures a chance to be productive during dry summer weather, and give you the ability to supplement with the quality forage made in spring.

While everyone screws up spring grass management at least once in a while, the Opitz dairy farm in southwestern Wisconsin probably screws up a lot less than average. With more than 2,000 cattle on 3,000 acres of rolling and rough ground, Charles Opitz, his son Mark, and herdsman Keith Ekstrom have their hands full every spring. But they usually come out of it with pastures set up well for the summer season, and a fair amount of decent quality pasture haylage in a pit or wrapped in bales. Continue reading “Opitz on grazing: Keeping up with spring grass”

Managing for birds … and profit

By Laura Paine, Portage, Wisconsin — One of the small pleasures of grass farming is watching and listening to the songbirds that share our farms in spring and summer. Grassland songbirds don’t do anything for the bottom line, but they can be indicators of environmental health. If our farms are capable of sustaining not only our families and livestock, but also a complex community of plants and animals, we know that we are part of a healthy, resilient, and fundamentally sustainable system.

And perhaps there is more of a distinct bottom line to this idea. For instance, Minnesota grazier Art Thicke has found that some of the same practices that are good for birds also improve forage utilization and contribute to the long-term productivity of his pastures. There are ways to improve songbird-nesting habitat that can work within a profitable grazing operation. But first, let’s think about the landscape from a bird’s perspective. Continue reading “Managing for birds … and profit”

The ABCs of streambank grazing

Ralph Lentz promotes the benefits of mixing cows and creeks

Lake City, Minnesota — To Ralph Lentz, the answer to the question of whether stream banks should be grazed is as simple as A-B-C.

In Ralph’s case, the cliché is literally true, and plain as day. Over the years he has divided his farm’s stretch of Sugarloaf Creek into three distinct sections that have become famous within the Upper Midwest’s soil and water conservation community as “A, B, and C.”

“C,” the furthest downstream, was fenced off and planted to several hundred trees in 1967 as part of an approved Soil Conservation Service (now National Resources Conservation Service) conservation plan that was supposed to be expanded to the entire one-third mile length of this streamside property. Continue reading “The ABCs of streambank grazing”

Intake more important than quality

And other thoughts from 20 years of grazing research

Jim Gerrish has learned a thing or two about grazing during some 20 years of poking around pastures.

For many years Gerrish has been the lead researcher at the University of Missouri’s Forage Systems Research Center at Linneus, which is generally recognized as the premier grazing research facility in the Midwest, if not the entire U.S. The FSRC has run a large number of trials attempting to measure forage and beef cattle performance—and how they interrelate—within a wide variety of grazing systems. Gerrish and his family also graze beef stockers and run a cow-calf operation on 260 acres in northern Missouri. Continue reading “Intake more important than quality”

The art of grazing

No one produces milk cheaper and easier than Art Thicke. No one ignores grazing fads more than Art Thicke. Is there a link here?

Art Thicke believes that too many graziers have lost sight of what really makes grazing work

La Crescent, Minnesota — How does any grazier — especially that segment with “what works” and “what doesn’t” cemented firmly into his or her mind — deal with the success that is Art Thicke?

Though you may or may not buy all or even very much of it, the grazing success formulas are out there for all to see. Plant the latest and greatest. Fertilize it heavily. Graze it every couple of weeks. Build a parlor and milk a lot of cows per labor unit. Go to a mixed ration, and shoot for high per-cow production. Or, if you don’t like that stuff, make up for your so-called “backward” production ideas by gaining a higher price through organic certification and/or direct marketing. Continue reading “The art of grazing”