The Grass Whisperer

By Troy Bishopp

(Peterboro, NY – Jan. 2012) “We really enjoy showing everyone around the farm and seeing the positive effects of a pasture-based farming system,” said a welcoming Steven Weaver from Weaver Family Farm to 40 farmers traveling from Rochester to Boonville to attend the New York Northeast Organic Farming Association’s field day.

According to Bethany Wallis, Organic Dairy Education Coordinator for NOFA-NY, “These meetings provide a venue to share knowledge among farmers, learn more about implementing organic grass-based dairy systems and help build a strong membership from the soil up.”

It was this symbiotic relationship between soil biology, pasture plants and grazing animals under the watchful management of the Weaver family that folks appreciated delving into. Steven began the pasture walk by describing the goals of the farm.

“To be economically viable, work as a family and leave the land better than they found it,” Weaver said. “For us, an organic grass-based dairy is the centerpiece to achieve this goal.”

He showed fellow farmers his grazing monitoring chart and pointed out that his old permanent pastures gave him a consistent three pounds of milk per cow more than his 3-year-old seedings of orchard grass, ryegrass and clover.

As the group looked for clues on the land for this increase in production, they found an active biological soil coupled with diverse perennial plant mixtures and learned about different grazing techniques, including out-wintering, over seeding, intensive grazing (65 cows per acre per 12 hours) and following up the herd with horses and poultry.

“I think it’s a combination of factors from deep rooted forbs, earthworm castings feeding plants, rest and the pulsing of the roots by grazing animals that leads to a successful pasture system that provides us feed until Thanksgiving,” Steven said.

The healthy and productive swards were complimented by a ‘gateless’ system of PVC poles lifting the wire for the cows to walk under into the lane, gravity flow watering to every paddock and a very successful homemade sticky cow to catch face flies. Steven also gave a tour of his milking parlor and bedded pack barn which is crucial to nutrient retention in the winter and overall herd health. He described his many strategies in using bedding materials, adjusting air flow with barn curtains and learning about the nuances of composting which he said is a real art.

The day was highlighted by fellowship surrounding a smorgasbord of local food made by the Peterboro Amish community, cheese and milk from Organic Valley Family of Farms and topped off with a cornucopia of pie choices and ice-cream (of course) to benefit the Siloam Springs School.

This pasture walk was supported by New York State Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Organic Valley and the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Grazing Planning Continues to Improve with Practice

The District in conjunction with the Central New York Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., are piloting 12-month planned grazing charts with several inspired farmers around the Bay and Great Lakes Watersheds.

This daily monitoring tool adopted from Holistic Management International that hangs on a door, seeks to improve decision-making on individual fields, record rainfall and animal production factors, prevent over-grazing, extend the grazing season and provide historical data for long term profitability.

To date, more than 150 charts have been distributed in various forms in an effort to learn how farmers use them and how to improve their functionality. They can be purchased for $3 each. To find out more give the office a call at (315) 824-9849 ext. 110.

Northeast SARE Fosters Grazing Training for Agency Professionals and Farmers

2011 marks another season for 42 grazing professionals throughout the Northeast coming together to learn more about building relationships and helping farmers set goals, plan, implement and monitor towards profitable holistic grazing management.

This three-year project working with a team of coordinators from NY, PA and VT have been busy teaching the practical nuances of planned grazing using a variety of tools and approaches including a “milk-house door friendly” 12-month monitoring chart.

The groups also teamed up this season with local farmers to “throw some darts” and learn about biological reading of the land to measure the results of different grazing management strategies. These continued evaluations are part of the project’s goal to help agricultural service providers meet farmers where they are to increase on-farm profitability, improve soil health while measuring quality of life issues.

We thank the many farms that opened up their land and minds to these intense training sessions.

“Through this planned grazing project and one on one consultations with our agency professional we have saved more than $6,000 in feed costs by strategically monitoring our rest periods and stockpiling pastures into December while keeping manure on the land and actually planning and then taking a family vacation,” said one participant. “The planning tools have revolutionized our operation.”

To learn more about the tools and project, visit cnyrcd.org/planned-grazing-participants.

The Sixth Consecutive Award for Local Conservation

For the sixth consecutive year, Madison County’s Soil and Water Conservation District was recognized for its media and tradition of outreach efforts by the New York State Soil & Water Conservation Committee and the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets as part of a comprehensive Agricultural Environmental Management Program (AEM) in New York State.

This year’s installment was predicated on being at the right place at the right time and capturing the beauty of the region on film; the district has garnered the “Best Photos in the News” award for their wide array of more than 30 photos featured and published in local newspapers, national magazines and online.

The aware also recognized the quality of articles and expert-source quotes with especially well-articulated sound-bites on tough issues like federal TMDL requirements.

“It’s an honor to have this recognition bestowed upon the district by Commissioner Aubertine,” said Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District Chairman Doug Holdridge of Lincoln. “It demonstrates the commitment and support of our local community to conservation efforts.”

Troy Bishopp is grazing specialist for the Madison Co. SWCD/Upper Susquehanna Coalition. He can be reached at  (315) 824-9849 ext. 110, troy-bishopp@verizon.net or thegrasswhisperer.com.

By martha

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