Evaluating Various Forage Combinations in a Rotational Grazing System

Final Report for FNC93-055

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1993: $2,850.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1994
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $16,245.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Myron has worked on the 150 acre dairy farm since childhood. In 1978, Myron and I purchased the family farm, livestock, equipment, land and buildings.

Since that time we have made improvements, capital investments, and farmed a totally “Conventional System”. In 1992, we began rotational grazing our livestock on 60 acres. At present, we have about 100 head of cattle, mainly consisting of registered Brown Swiss, a few Holsteins, and Holstein/Brown Swiss cross.

We want to keep our expenses at a minimum and profits at a maximum, have the lease amount of labor involved to run the dairy farm, and protect the environment and ground water.

At the present time, the entire farm is seeded down to a grass/legume blend for grazing. A fencing system is now completed, as well as water supply to all paddocks. The entire farm can be grazed, or any section of it mechanically harvested if necessary.

We now need to build up fertility, to have paddocks produce at maximum quantity and quality, which will in turn help the “farm” generate income at maximum efficiency rates.

There is, and shall remain we feel, a constant need to: continue the education process, by reading, attending meetings, pasture walks, and keeping lines of communication open with other grazers, resource people, and those participating sustainable agricultural practices.

As a part of this project, numerous contacts were made:
Paul McCarville, Bob and Barb Eader, Carl and Robert Klessig, Harlan Bender, Charlie Opitz, Leo Gendron, Carl and Cathy Pulvermacher, Tom and Bonnie Bukholtz, Jere Mann and Kenneth and Winifred Hoffman. All of these producers are using sustainable agricultural practices, and in to various steps of rotational grazing.

Andy Hagar, Dave Ankley, and John Cockrell, all county agents. DATCP offices in Madison, Julie Baker contact person. Bernie Coulthurst, field agent for the Stevens Point Wellhead Protection project.

Mr. Coulthurst did an evaluation work-up on the farming practices we use. The others were all helpful in providing sources, background information, reading material list, or other producers to contact. The county agents also provided free advertising for our field day.

Mr. Coulthurst gave us an “A” rating in conservation, sustainable Ag practices, as well as farming practices which protect our ground water supply. Our farm begins the eastern boundary of the Wellhead Protection Project.

This grant was to help us further our education in “rotational grazing” with zero use of pesticides or herbicides, and minimum or no use of the commercial fertilizers if possible. The grant helped in the completion of projects involved with making the switch from a conventional to grass farm/grazing system, and gave us the opportunity to share our experience, knowledge, accomplishments and mistakes with other farmers and agri-business persons interested in this type of an operation.

Completed fencing the entire farm for grazing perimeter and temporary fencing. Also, we have in place temporary fencing on an adjoining forty acres of rented land. The only problem is that it took longer than anticipated, and we were not able to establish the calf grazing cell. Hopefully, that will be accomplished in 1995.

There is now installed, above ground, (except for where it crosses lanes, that portion was buried) approximately 1 ¼ miles of black ¾” PVC tubing, which carries water to all paddocks. The farthest the animals need to walk for water in any one section is, as recommended in our research, 600 feet. Usually it is less than that amount of distance for the animals to travel to the portable water tank.

The water is supplied from the main pump on the farm. We have plenty of pressure, even at the farthest point, which is about a mile away from the buildings, up and down hills.

It is not possible for us to bury any more of the water lines due to the amount of rock in our land. To date, the only problem encountered with this type of lay out, is on the very hot days, usually between the hours of noon until 5:30 pm the water would heat up so much traveling in the tubing that it was to warm for the cows to drink.

Even allowing the water to continually flow at a slow rate did not solve this. The water simply warmed up to much traveling in the tubing. However, the cows have two large water tanks, 200 gallons, available when they were brought home for milking at 4:30 in the after noon, so adverse effects were minimized on those days.

We believe having water in the paddocks this year was a GREAT plus to the cattle, and would recommend grazers to install water lines as soon as they have the chance to do so. It was also tremendously beneficial to the lanes, by not having as much cow traffic. Much of our land system filled in with grasses and weeds. We now have only a few problem spots that need further work in the lanes. Ex. A couple of steep hills, and near the barnyard.

The thirty heifers did well with a small, 35 gallon portable tank. This seemed too small for the sixty milk cows, so we used a 100 gallon – portable tank. That handled the cows drinking needs much easier.

We were unable to find a used mower in good condition for sale. We have watched the farm adds, and Myron attended four auctions where they were listed for sale, but all those looked at were in very bad condition.

We still believe this is a needed piece of equipment to kelp keep the pastures in good quality, and will continue to look for a hay mower in the future.

This was excellent; we attended the Wisconsin Grazing Conference held in Stevens Point on March 14th and 15th. There were 650 people registered, and it was again on excellent conference. We were on the panel for “timely breeding”.

We also attended five “pasture walks” in our and neighboring counties. The “pasture walks” provide tremendous, easy learning opportunities of things to do or not to do on your farm.

The Grass Farmer and Agri-View are the periodicals Myron and I like the best in helpful reading information about grazing and sustainable agricultural practices used nation-wide.

This NEW farming system definitely requires a person to be open to new information, experience and knowledge gained by others, and become accustomed to the fact that there will always be room for improvement.

This also worked excellently. Of the total 46 houses installed around the property 43 were used by Blue Birds, Wrens, Chickadees, and Tree Swallows.

The fly problem is still a big issue that needs to be considered, and found a solution for, we fell. As has been noted, there are an increased number of flies in pasturing systems. Anything that can encourage natural predators is a PLUS.

We also observed huge flocks of Cow Birds gathering around the cows while they were eating in the paddocks. Myron and I also observed that there were definitely larger numbers of birds flying around and singing on our farm, than at other places we attended pasture walks on. It is our opinion, that probably being chemical, pesticide, herbicide free provides a more natural-healthy environment for the wildlife.

A couple of the slides I had shown at the Grazing Conference were of bird houses out in the paddocks, and explained what we were trying to accomplish. I was surprised at all the interest and questions asked regarding the bird houses, and the number of people that wanted to know where they could be purchased, as well as discussion of “homemade” cheaper versions.

Organic farmers are not allowed to use fly spray, and has been experienced by diary farmers, it seems as though the flies build up an immunity to the fly spray.

One inexpensive item that we use, are the individual fly ribbons. They are purchased for about twenty cents a piece from Fleet Farm. Many times, we had from eight to twelve stickers hanging from the ceiling in the barn. They would be filled in 24 to 48 hours during “high fly season”.

Taking a “head count” showed that the average sticker contained 600 to 650 flies. That equates out to a cost of three cents per 100 flies. Not bad, and… no use of chemicals involved.

Our “high fly season” began fully the second week of July, which appeared to be at least two to three weeks after other grazers were reporting intense fly problems. Myron and I attribute this later arrival to all the birds. But, as stated earlier, much more attention needs to be given to help control fly problems.

Another observation we have made: farmers talk about cows standing in groups during times of intense heat, not eating, lower milk producing, etc., we believe it is not only the temperature, but also flies which cause this grouping.

I have photographs of cows in May and June, when temperatures were well into the 80’s – the cows are out eating or laying by themselves – not grouped together. This was noticed with Brown Swiss, as well as Holsteins.

There is no-doubt the amount of stress placed on animals because of “high temperatures”, especially for the Holstein breed, but perhaps flies should also fit into that equation.

Lab tests for soil has shown we need to improve fertility on pastures, so that quantity of forage available and pasture stands produce more.

With forage samples taken, we have seen the high quality of feed available, but we also need a better understanding of cow requirements and the difference composition will make as far as animals being able to “produce” well on the pastures.

The heifer group did well all season – in growth and overall body condition. The milking group still suffered somewhat in body condition – which is certain to affect milk production capabilities.

One of our objectives was to be a seasonal dairy, with the entire herd being dry from January 1995 to March of 1995. This was not accomplished.

Our breeding window was not condensed enough to this point. As we learned attending the Wisconsin Grazing Conference in March of 1994, it is crucial to identify cows in heat and have the cows bred in a relatively short “window”, two months of less.

Part of the solution has been for farmers to return to the practice of having bulls with cows in the pasture. The natural service method has seen improved conception rates.

Another solution the farmers discussed was to sell off those late freshening cows as “milkers” when the farmer has gone seasonal, and then to buy cows from auctions or a sale barn the next spring when the vow is freshening at the proper time.

The “first solution” we followed having a bull in with the cows, another with the heifer for breeding. For the amount of cows that we have though, two bulls would be needed in the herd. We also continued with artificial breeding when possible.

The “second solution” of selling off cows if they were not bred back on time is not feasible for us. We have the registered Brown Swiss, and since it is not easy to replace them due to the limited number of Swiss in the country, we have to keep those that we have.

We discovered, as other farmers have, that having such a large amount of cows freshening in a short amount of time makes a labor intensive 2-3 month period. Your operation must be geared up to handle the rapidly expanding amount f work with cows and calves, versus being spread out over ten or twelve months.

An article carried in the Agri-view two weeks ago stated three of the four farmers interviewed for the story said at this time that were not going to repeat the try at seasonal herds because of problems encountered.

The “seasonal” dairying is definitely not suited to every farm; the option will have to be weighed carefully. One option that may work out for more farmers is having a “mostly” spring freshening herd, with some cows still freshening in summer or early fall. Currently, that is where we will be at.

On March 14-15, 1994 the Wisconsin Grazing Conference was held in Stevens Point. There were about 650 people registered in attendance at this two day conference from Wisconsin and neighboring states.

I was a presenter on the panel discussion group for “Seasonal Dairy”.

During my talk, I gave our farm history, and where we were headed. I was quite surprised at the amount of people interested in learning about our “bird house project”.

During 1994 we continued our practice of hosting tour groups when requested. There were two small groups, one in June and one in July, of young farmers from Germany, France and Switzerland, that were in the US on a five month tour program from their countries. We spent several hours walking over the pastures and discussing practices of grazing in the US and Europe.

In May of 1994 the Kindergarten class of St. Paul’s Lutheran school came for a “farm tour”.

In May 1993 the Brown Swiss Association came to our farm and filmed our grazing systems, with our comments on the Brown Swiss Breed for grazing, along with interviewing two other farmers in Conventional systems. The film was professional produced and is distributed world wide through the Brown Swiss Association.

Our field day was held on June 22, 1994. we felt it was very successful. There were about 70 people in attendance. Lunch was served from 12:15 to 1:00.

The hand out titled “Points of Interest” was discussed and explained on the yard before going out into the pasture for the actual pasture walk. As we walked through different sections, we referred back to the map and things happening in the area of the field.

This handout seemed to be much appreciated and helpful to those in attendance.

Andy Hager, county agent for Taylor County commented to Myron at a grazing meeting last week, how impressed several of his members were at the way our “field day” was conducted, as well as by the layout and design of our grazing system.

One thing that would help improve “pasture walks” is a very light weight, portable speaker system which could be carried and used out in the pasture during the talk. With the large “numbers” of people in attendance, it becomes to difficult to hear the farmer making comments.

Myron and I will possibly be on the panel to discuss “Beginning Grazing” at the Wisconsin Grazing Conference which is being held in Stevens Point, February 19th through the 21st 1995. Speakers are currently being scheduled by Carl Fredricks.

When all the controlling factors are in place, a rotational grazing system produces milk at 1/3 to ½ the cost of conventional farming. Once a farm is past that construction/transition period it is easily only half as labor intensive as the conventional system.

Sustainable Agricultural practices carried out through rotational grazing, organic farming, will save millions of dollars, as well as million of hours of work eliminated on farms yearly nation wide.

After completing our third year in grazing, we recommend it to anyone interested.

The pasture walks, informal and formal meetings, along with the telephone have become an excellent avenue to encouragement, and give direction of other sources to seek help from.

Farmers have nothing to lose or gain by sharing their experiences, unlike information fed out over the years by machinery, chemical, drug and fertilizer companies, etc.

We are very appreciative of being chosen as one of the farms to receive this grant.

Most of our goals have been accomplished, “problems” identified, and the areas that still need attention will continue to be worked on.

The knowledge and experience has been shared with hundreds of people verbally, thousands through the newspaper.


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.