Encouraging Managed Grazing in Michigan

Final report for FNC05-580

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,245.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Grant Recipient: Straub Family Farm
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Howard Straub
Straub family farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

The Straub family farm is in Clinton County Michigan in Essex Township Section 34 where they raise a dairy milking herd. It is their intent to make the highest net return in dollars with the least amount of cost and effort but at the same time be responsible stewards of the natural resources of the farm. To reach the objective of the managed or prescribed grazing, the Straub's make adjustments as needed and include all or part of:
a. changing the length of grazing and rest periods
b. changing paddock sizes
c. moving watering facilities and/or
d. moving access or travel lanes


On-farm demonstrations of pasture management activities to reduce the risk of converting to managed grazing will include pasture fertilization, estimating dry matter availability on a regular schedule, and strategies to plan and manage grazing. Tools will be developed and tested for grazing record keeping, a forage management calendar, and a Michigan Pasture Stick for dry matter estimation.

A. On farm Demonstrations and Pasture Walks- Unique Pasture Management Strategies.
1. Hosted 2 pasture walks: 32 participants- 13 female, 19 male.
2. Demonstrated use of irrigation for perennial ryegrass pasture management. The rainfall in spring and summer 2006 was more than adequate to support excellent forage growth. The producer did not utilize irrigation and no clipping data was collected as there was no need for irrigation and no difference in forage yield. Irrigation tractor was demonstrated at the pasture walk.
3. Demonstrated perennial and Italian ryegrass use. Exclusion cages were used to collect yield data. The summer of 2006 was extremely dry in this part of Michigan. Yield data is not yet summarized. Visual observation suggests that:

B. Pasture Stick as a management tool
1. Coordinated update of dry matter measurements with MSU Extension and Dr. Rich Leep.
2. Ordered/purchased 1000 plastic sticks for $3233.43.
3. Distribution of pasture sticks to graziers in process.

The summary of evaluations from the 2 pasture walks indicates that the audience we are reaching is primarily the livestock producer with grazing as a component. We are also educating hay producers and agency personnel that work with livestock producers.

Pasture acres ranged from 20-50 acres for those who attended the first pasture walk. Data was incomplete for the second pasture walk. Current livestock numbers on average for attendants at the second pasture walk were: 40 dairy cows, 60 dairy heifers, 60 beef steers, 190 ewes with lambs, and 290 ewes.

The range that producers traveled to attend a pasture walk was 35-50 miles. Reasons for attending were to gain more specific information about the unique strategies and to have questions answered about the strategies. Meeting other farmers who use the techniques was also a reason to attend the pasture walk.

Participants of the first pasture walk demonstrating using sorghum sudan grass, turnips, and pasture irrigation indicate that:
10% agreed that the practices would be practical on their farm;
Only 5% had tried either turnips or sorghum sudan grass;
16% were confident that the turnip or sudan grass practices demonstrated would work on their farm.

Participants at the second pasture walk demonstrating grazing height management, rotational grazing with sheep, and turnips to extend the grazing season found:
21% agreed that both grazing height management and rotational grazing would be practical on their farm;
14% had already adopted grazing height management;
21% had adopted rotational grazing;
No participants had tried turnips on their farms;
Over 50% were confident that grazing height and rotational grazing management would work for their operations.

There is an opportunity to improve the adoption rate of managed grazing strategies as indicated by the low percentages of early adopters at these pasture walks.

The Pasture Stick will play a role in adoption of grazing height management and implementation of rotational or managed grazing periods.

A. On farm Demonstrations and Pasture Walks
1. Summarize yield data from clipping trials with Duane Tirrell and Dr. Joe Rook.
2. Layout fertilizer and compost comparison plots and arrange for application of compost.
3. Coordinate pasture walk with Howard Straub to demonstrate watering facility options.
4. Host pasture walk to demonstrate fertilizer and compost comparisons.

B. Legislative Tour
1. Michigan GLCI planning committee selected.
2. Farm stops and tour itinerary selected.
3. Collect and summarize economic data, prepare fact sheet.
4. Make personal contacts to Michigan legislators.
5. Publicize
6. Hold event prior to July 15, 2007.

C. Forage Management Calendar and Record Keeping Booklet
1. Develop record keeping format.
2. Coordinate with printing service.
3. Booklet available prior to start of 2007 grazing season.

On farm demonstrations were explained at pasture walks. Thirty two individuals participated in pasture walks in 2006.

Results of the ryegrass study are expected to be summarized for an article in the Michigan Hay and Grazier newsletter.

Data can be shared in presentations during the Michigan Forage Council alfalfa and grazing workshop March 8, 2007. Pasture sticks will be distributed to Graziers at the workshop. Follow up with those receiving the pasture sticks to determine how sticks are used by survey and field visits is planned for summer of 2007.

Grazing information, use of tools such as the pasture stick, and on farm research trials will be part of the Legislative tour.



Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours

Participation Summary:

101 Farmers participated
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Three on-farm demonstrations using different pasture management techniques with fertilizer applications were planned. Field days or Pasture Walks were scheduled to demonstrate the practice and give other graziers and opportunity to ask questions. Four Pasture Walks were held over two grazing seasons.

Forage dry matter production data from Michigan State University, Dr. Rich Leep, was used to create the 2006 Michigan pasture Stick. Pasture Sticks were given out at several pasture walks throughout the state beginning in 2007. One thousand sticks were ordered. Currently on hand are approximately 150 sticks.

A forage management calendar and grazing record keeping tool was created with assistance from Michigan NRCS Grassland Forage Specialist, Betsy Dierberger. The calendar included management tips for each month and a form to record grazing periods with plant height notes.

A Bus Tour to show grazing as part of the Michigan livestock industry was held August 30, 2007. The purpose was to inform policy makers and the public about managed grazing. Three farms were visited showing horse, dairy and sheep pastures with a range of management.


Duane Tirrell hosted the second Pasture Walk August 30, 2006.  Duane used fertilizer on turnips being stockpiled for winter grazing by his sheep. He also had an Italian Ryegrass study with fertilizer in collaboration with Dr. Joe Rook at Michigan State University. This project was not finished due to the tragic loss of Duane in the spring of 2007. 

Tom Cook hosted the first Pasture Walk at Cook Dairy Farm in July 2006. His project was to show the difference in forage dry matter production of perennial ryegrass pasture with fertilizer under irrigation compared to no irrigation. The growing season was above normal in precipitation, and Tom never turned the irrigation on that year except to demonstrate for the Pasture Walk.

Steve Gardner hosted a Pasture Walk in August 2007. Steve had just implemented a managed grazing system for hi beef operation. This was the first year he had used soil tests for nutrient recommendations. Michigan NRCS participated in this pasture walk by providing the grazing plan for Steve. 

Howard Straub hosted a Pasture Walk in August 2007 at Triple H Dairy Farm. Howard had used 100 pounds per acre of urea on pastures in the spring. He had check strips with no fertilizer application as well. There was a consistent dry matter yield increase found that spring. The remainder of the growing season was a drought and no further data was collected. MSU Extension assisted with this Pasture Walk. 

Outreach for Pasture Walks were through direct mail invitations (postcards and flyers) to multiple mailing lists provided by MSU Extension and MI Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. Included in the mailing list were local newspapers and MI Farm Bureau who publishes the Farm Bureau News. The attendance at Pasture Walks ranged from 10 to 39 people.

On farm demonstration results were shared at each Pasture Walk and in discussion at other walks held in 2006 and 2007. Results are intended to be published in the MI Forage Council quarterly newsletter the Hay and Grazier. This summary is still to be developed. 

Another Bus Tour promoting grazing is desired.

Learning Outcomes

40 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

The on farm demonstrations were significantly impacted by weather each year. The turnips planted at Duane Tirrell's were slow to emerge due to late season water deficit in his area. The turnips are used to fill the winter slump, and are planted in early August. When left ungrazed until December, the turnips were found to double the dry matter production to 8000 pounds per acre. The Italian ryegrass demonstration was not completed.

The application of nitrogen fertilizer (urea) at 100 pounds per acre on a mixed grass pasture was found to increase spring dry matter production by 1100 pounds per acre. Howard use the pasture stick to measure dry matter in replicated strips of pasture. The Pasture stick is based on forage yield data from MSU. The increased grass production was visible in early spring, and remained visible into August even with drought conditions. The use of the Pasture Stick enabled Howard to easily estimate the dry matter difference.

Over 800 pasture Sticks have been supplied to Michigan graziers. The sticks have been available at Pasture Walks held statewide. At the majority of the walks, the stick was demonstrated in the field as directions were given verbally with a handout of the same directions to take home. The stick includes a quick reference marking at 3 inches to indicate when grazing should cease in a paddock and livestock should be moved. The response to the Pasture Stick has been positive and enthusiastic. This is supported by the number of sticks given out. A conservative estimate of the number of graziers using the Pasture Stick as a new tool would be on-half the number of sticks given away, or 400 graziers.

The Pasture Walk evaluation summaries indicated that producers with grazing livestock found turnips to be a practical crop to adopt and were confident that the practice would work for them. Pasture irrigation was also seen as a practice which would work on their farms. About 1/2 of the pasture walk attendees were not using a managed system of grazing. The same percentage felt somewhat unsure that they would be successful with a managed grazing practice. Over 90% of attendees came to Pasture Walks because they were interested in the techniques demonstrated and wanted more specifics. We imply from these results that the Pasture Stick will be a valuable resource as managed grazing practices are adopted.

The Bus Tour was attended by 39 people. The different management practices of grazing operations were found to be practical on farm. However, only 2 livestock producers had ever used a Pasture Stick. They were confident that grazing strategies demonstrated would be successful on their farm. The intended audience of policy makers did not meet our expectations. One reason may be that the Michigan legislature was in session battling over the new budget. We had registrations from policy makers and aides that were cancelled due to conflicts.


Turnips are responsive to nitrogen. They provide feed to grazing ewes and lambs for approximately 15% of the average cost of feeding hay and grain.

Mixed grass pasture responded to nitrogen fertilizer with increased dry matter production of 1100 pounds per acre over the untreated pasture yield. The increasing cost of fertilizer (up in 2007) may reduce the use of fertilizer on pastures in the short term. However, Howard decide to make sure enough nitrogen was supplied to the pasture after seeing the response in 2007, but he is incorporating clovers in the pasture to fix nitrogen rather than using fertilizer. The expected cost savings comes from the difference between 1/2 to 2 pounds of clover per acre compared to 150 pounds of urea per acre ($0.26 per pound in 2007).

Pasture Stick use on farm should be assessed as the sticks have been out for over 1 year and should be in use during the grazing season. One idea is to ask Pasture Walk participants in 2008 if they have a stick and if they use the stick.

Project Outcomes

4 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Using turnips as a winter grazing forage for sheep impacted the Tirrell farm as estimated:

  • 4 pounds hay per head per day during winter (120 days) = 480 pounds per head.
  • Hay cost: $100/ton (2006) or $0.05 per pound.
  • Turnip gross savings: 480 pounds  * 0.05 = $24 dollars per head.
  • Turnip seed costs: $12 - $24 per acre.

Howard decided to make sure enough nitrogen was supplied to the pastures after seeing the response in 2007, but he is incorporating clovers into the pasture to fix nitrogen rather than using fertilizer. The expected cost savings comes from the difference between 1/2 to 2 pounds of clover per acre ($2.00 per pound with expected 4 year life) compared to 150 pounds of urea per acre ($0.26 per pound in 2007, $0.56 per pound in 2008 applied yearly) and the reduced labor needed from the perennial crop. 

With Pasture Sticks out to an estimated 400 graziers as a new tool, the expectation for better management of grass height is high. Better pasture management will lead to higher quality feed and protection of the soil from erosion.

It is important to keep grazing as part of the livestock industry in the minds of policymakers. In the future, a better method of engaging policymakers is needed. A bus tour is a good way to see a variety of situations. 

Information Products

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.