Bill and three other farmers, two of them dairymen, and two raising beef cattle, collaborated on this pasture improvement project. All four are interested in increasing their reliance on pasturing, and depending less on confinement feeding, and hay, silage, and supplemental corn. The virtues of pasturing are, of course, that it means less handling of feed and manure, and consequently lower labor costs, less expense for purchased feed, and better use of manure. It can also reduce veterinary costs by providing a healthier environment for the animals.
Each of the collaborating farmers designated two fields or paddocks for intensive sampling and monitoring over the course of this three-year project. Soil and forage samples were taken from each field, forage samples repeatedly. Weather data were also collected. Pasture plates were used before and after grazing events, to estimate the amount of forage produced and consumed.
Results: Analyses showed forage quality to be good to excellent on all four farms, thus improvement of quality proved really not to be an issue. Soils similarly required little improvement.
Yields are given in the table below, expressed as pounds of dry matter per acre per day, for each of the three pasture mixes growing on the eight fields in this project. The figures represent averages over the three years, 1997-1999, for each month from May to October.
Yield of the tall grass/alfalfa mixture, though lowest overall, was steadiest through the heat and drought of mid-summer (all three summers were droughty, that of 1999 especially so), probably because the alfalfa is quite deep-rooted.
All participants have seen a reduction in labor costs, and two of them have been able to reduce their purchases of supplemental feed concentrates, at considerable saving, as testing revealed higher than suspected levels of protein in the forages. Finally, this project has led to the formation of a cattle and forages discussion group, which meets on a monthly basis.