Sustainable Dairy Operation Phase 1: Convert to Grazing

Final Report for FNC01-361

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


• The McDonald Dairy Farm is a now certified organic 310 acre family operation. Milking 40 Holstein dairy cows. Currently cropping 210 acres and grazing 100.
• The Russell Ruff Dairy Farm is a now certified organic 256 acre family operation. Milking 43 Holstein dairy cows. Currently cropping 211 acres and grazing 45.
• The Eric Buntz Dairy Farm is a 700 acre family operation. Milking 62 Holstein dairy cows. Currently cropping 620 acres and grazing 80.

All three farms used conventional farming practices — no grazing, some strip cropping. The Buntz farm also used some commercial fertilizer and chemicals.

• Develop plans for 3 farms to convert to grazing operations and move toward organic certification
• Initiate sustainability by lowering in-put costs
• Use environmentally friendly farming practices

We had no organized steps or logic . . . we just jumped in and started running. Conventional farming practices just started to make no sense (or cents). We were almost organic by “neglect” (not having the money for sprays or GMOs) so we decided to start the process of certification by calling MOSA. We teamed up with a couple other farming friends and:
• Determined how to arrange pastures
• Worked with Midwest Bio-Ag, Soil Balancing Service and Midwest Materials for soil testing and lime/nutrient management
• Anticipated facility/equipment changes
• Determined ways to swap talents/expertise with each other to keep costs down
• Started developing business plans that would include value added production

We attended a presentation at a local parish, by Larry Swain on sustainable agriculture - - this supported our already growing interest in sustainable agriculture and value added production.
Mr. Swain served as a source of information and inspiration for our commitment to our project.
We also received a lot of advice and help from River Country Resource Conservation & Development Council.

Two farms have successfully met the goal of becoming certified organic . . . and the third is making his way in that direction. Yields, field analysis and related data? As “project coordinators” we planned to keep fabulous records but shortly after beginning this project we fell into a hostile lawsuit initiated by the organic changes we were making and the substantial increase in local land value - - aunt and uncle wanted the farm back! They figured they would make more by repossessing the land and lotting it off. This took us way off the track of “data collection”.

This grant was a great method for getting started in a way of life that is absolutely necessary to preserve family farming in today’s world! We would tell other producers to go for it.

In reference to the grant itself . . . we personally needed an easier way of keeping track and making sure we were meeting the grant requirements as far as documentation. Possibly some kind of notebook or folder system that would enable us to keep tabs on our progress in a systematic way. We are guessing that there are other farmers out there who also lack the organizational skills necessary to collect and retain data. This was the only disadvantage of implementing this project.

We fell short of our goals for formally sharing information about our project through a video, extension programs and farm tours BUT Mark McDonald has had many informal talks with local farmers - - giving tips and sharing organic ideas - - constantly encouraging organic practices. He also had the opportunity to speak for the River Country Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. office in our area, addressing their WI State Association Annual Conference. We hope to have more formal information together in the future, but for the present we are sticking with the most economical and most effective advertising . . . “word of mouth".


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.