Evaluating Forages in Rotational Grazing System for Dairy

Final Report for FNC93-043

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1993: $4,688.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $14,245.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Our operation is a family farm which consists of 255 acres owned, with about 150 acres more cash rented. Our family has owned the original 125 acres since 1945. I purchased it in 1970 from my mother. My wife and I added additional 130 acres in 1980. We have raised our four children here, with the youngest now almost 21 years old.

Since our children are grown and gown, my wife and I needed to assess and change the workload. We became interested in Intensive Rotational Grazing. We hadn’t done much grazing prior to this, as our operation was conventional, using stored feed, fed in confinement, with small exercise paddocks.

We grew primarily 100+ acres of hay and 150 acres of corn, with wheat and oats used on the remaining acres for seeding alfalfa and yield of straw.

We have a herd of registered Holstein dairy cattle which consist of 55 milking cows and approximately 65 head of young stock. We also run 15 head of crossbred beef cows on some marginal land and wetland pasture.

Before receiving this grant, our sustainable practices consisted mainly of switching to no-till corn about 10 years ago.

We were assisted in our grant project field day September 13, 1995 by:
- Craig Goodlock, Farmers State Bank of Munith President provided a luncheon for our field day.
It was encouraging to have personal help and support form a financial institution in implementing the grant project.
- Holly Stetz, our daughter who is also an employee of Farmers State Bank, helped with serving the field day lunch and passing out printed information.
- Jeff Stetz provided assistance with erecting a shade tent and other preparations for the field day.
- Harold Spink, a representative from Pro-Seed seed company, was on hand to discuss Pro-Seed’s alfalfa varieties. Harold is a retired Jackson County Extension Director who has rotationally grazed a herd of beef cattle for 10-15 years.
- Leland Townsend, a representative of National Farmers Organization, furnished milk and served ice cream
- Jeanine Schepeler of West County Press was on had as a reporter/photographer and contributed a large amount of help and time with printed matter for handouts and press coverage.
- Wally Moline, a forage specialist from Michigan State University was also present for our field day. Wally is highly regarded for his knowledge of different plant species and their characteristics.

We worked on an ongoing basis with Bill Bivens, MSU Extension – Jackson County Agriculture Agent, who was instrumental in helping obtain the grant and in carrying out the grant project. We appreciate his help.

Julius Pigot of the Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation Service helped with measuring the amount of slopes in the paddocks for presentation in discussions on erosion control. Julius was also interested in the grant project as another possible alternative in manure handling systems. Julius was not able to be present during the field day due to Conservation Reserve Program sign-up obligations.

Roger Betz, MSU Telefarm Extension Farm Management Agent, provided established financial information to be used for financial analysis of impact of practices on farm business at year’s end.

The main barriers we faced in implementing a sustainable agriculture practice were a shortage of operation funds and sufficient time to undertake and manage yet another management practice. Also, switching form conventional dry lot dairy to Intensive Rotational Grazing (IRG) presents its own challenges with reference to changing our thought pattern.

Our short-term goals to overcome these barriers were first to start seeking information on IRG as a tool to help manage a dairy farm with less labor required. We accomplished this by attending an IRG conference in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan and other informational meetings on the subject. That allowed us to become aware of grant availability so we could form an opinion on plant species or mixes to use for grazing.

The second barrier proved to be more difficult to manage. Where to find additional time to design and build fences. Our commitment and responsibility to the grant project and the grant funds helped us to commit time and additional funds to implementing the practice.

Another decision which we made that helped with both primary barriers we faced, time and money was to decide not to plant any corn for the 1994 season. We chose this method because of the extreme shortage of operating funds to plant corn crop, as well as a shortage of available labor to help met commitments of time to plant corn and implement the grant project at the same time.

The learning process for the changing of our thoughts appears to be an ongoing process. Attending pasture walks sponsored by local farmers and MSU Extension Service is quite effective in the sharing and teaching of information.

We achieved the installation of perimeter and interior fencing on approximately 50 acres, which was divided into 10 different paddocks. These paddocks were seeded to eight different species or species mixes. Water sources were installed at two locations to serve all paddocks. We tested soil samples on all paddocks to establish baseline fertility and organic matter levels which will be used for future measuring of effects form IRG. The amount of slope was measured in different paddocks, with the highest being 13%.

As the milking herd was rotated form one paddock to the next, a log was kept to provide a measure of pounds of milk produced per paddock and species or species mix. We also kept a record of number of days grazed per paddock. This was recorded for a period of 58 days, from May 18 until July 28. Visual observations were also noted on different species or paddocks.

The amount of forage produced by different species or species mixes was compared by days of grazing per paddock and number of days of grazing per acre. We also attempted to measure pounds of milk per acre per day grazed, as well as pounds of milk per acre grazed. In addition, we attempted to assign a dollar value to pounds of milk produced per acre grazed, as well as a combined dollar figure for milk and/or hay produced, as some hay was harvested from some paddocks.

We believe that the addition of water to paddocks greatly adds to cattle needs being met and their comfort. It also adds much more flexibility to the use of the paddocks.

We believe that implementing this practice has opened up many other optional feed sources, such as crop residues and other feeds unharvestable by conventional means.

We believe that we reached our goals of implementing a sustainable agriculture practice. It appears that the practice will be a continuous learning and teaching process.

With the help of this grant, we were exposed to many different ideas and though on IRG and how they may be applied in our own operation. We reached the conclusion that it’s not an exact science with absolutes, but a varied system that you learn to manage by observation, versus a date book, as you would, for instance, in planting a row crop. The affect this has on our operation will be an ongoing observation, based on our financial results at year’s end, as well as the effects on our management and lifestyle.

It is difficult to estimate the economic impact of this project on a short-term basis, but it appears that it will be positive. The economic assessment will be ongoing, with yearly financial comparisons done at year’s end, through business analysis agent Roger Betz.

- Press releases and photos announcing the field day in advance and inviting interested parties to join us were sent to the Albion Mirror, Connections (MSU Extension – Jackson County Newspaper), Grass Lake Times, Jackson Business Monthly, Michigan Farm News, Michigan Farm Radio Network, Michigan & Indiana Holstein News, The Farmers Advance, The Michigan Farmer, The Stockman Grass Farmer and the Michigan Grazing Newsletter.
- Bill Bivens and I developed an informational handout specifically about my farm and experience to date with IRG for the field day
- We had handouts pertaining to Prairie Grass, Puna Chicory and Getting Started in IRG, as well as a brochure from Oldfields Seed Company pertaining to various forages and “other items for thinking grazers”
- We had 25-30 interested parties who attended our field day.
- Bill Bivens recorded the field day with a camcorder and Jeanine Schepeler took still photos. The video is available for use by anyone in the area who is interested in getting started in grazing; the photos may be used for a follow-up article in several publications such as Connections, The Grass Lake Times, Farmers Advance and Pasture Talk. We also plan to host another pasture walk in the spring of 1996.


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.