Implementing Rotational Grazing Practices on Livestock Operations in Maryland

Progress report for LNE20-397

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $78,076.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Dr. Amanda Grev
University of Maryland
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Project Information

Summary:

Problem and Justification:

Continuous grazing is typically defined as a one-pasture system in which livestock have unrestricted access to the entire pasture area throughout the grazing season.  Although it is a simple system to implement and manage, it often results in uneven grazing patterns where parts of the field are under or overgrazed.  This in turn leads to poorer forage quality, a loss of ground cover in overgrazed areas, the emergence of weeds and undesirable plants, and a decrease in stand production and longevity.  In comparison, rotational grazing practices are known to improve forage production and yield potential, increase forage quality and the persistence of desirable species, and decrease weed and erosion problems.  As a result, rotational grazing systems can offer economic and environmental benefits in the form of increased carrying capacity, greater animal production per acre, prolonged grazing days, a reduction in hay feeding, faster recovery, and decreased nutrient runoff.  However, many Maryland livestock producers have not adopted these best management practices and continue to utilize continuous grazing systems.  Reasons for the lack of implementation may include a lack of knowledge regarding the benefits of rotational grazing, a resistance to change, or a misunderstanding regarding the time and resources needed to implement rotational grazing.

Solution and Approach:

We propose that educational programming on the benefits and strategies behind rotational grazing together with assistance in designing a personalized, farm-specific rotational grazing system will help increase adaptation of these best management practices.  To accomplish this, a series of field days and grazing schools will be hosted across the state of Maryland.  These educational events will cover the basics of rotational grazing and will be hosted at demonstration sites where producers can see successful implementation of the grazing practices described.  In addition to these educational programs, producers who commit to implementing rotational grazing practices will also be enrolled in an individualized on-farm grazing program.  This program will entail in-person farm visits across multiple years, at which experts will assist with collecting and analyzing soil and pasture samples, completing a detailed pasture assessment, addressing questions and concerns, and designing a personalized grazing plan.

Milestones and Performance Target:

Attendance at field days and grazing schools will be measured and is expected to exceed 600 participants across the 3-year timespan.  Participants will be asked to fill out program evaluations to indicate learning gains and post-program outcomes.  A minimum of 20 livestock farms will be enrolled in the individualized grazing program and will commit to increasing the number of acres utilized as rotationally grazed pasture throughout the state of Maryland.  In addition to the evaluations, pasture assessments completed at initial and follow-up farm visits will allow for a comparison of on-farm measurements across years.

Performance Target:

As a result of grazing education and on-farm guidance, 20 livestock farms will implement rotational grazing on at least 30 acres, resulting in 600 acres of rotationally grazed pasture and an improvement in net farm income due to increased forage productivity, quality, and carrying capacity and improved soil fertility.

Introduction:

As the number of producers interested in grazing increases, and the benefits behind good grazing management continue to become more transparent, there is not only a need but also a desire for educational programming and assistance by producers. The goal behind this project is to provide educational programming and assistance in order to increase adaptation of grazing best management practices like rotational grazing. To accomplish this, a series of field days and grazing schools will be hosted across the state of Maryland, and interested producers will also be able to enroll in an individualized on-farm grazing program. Unfortunately, due to the hands-on nature of these activities, at this point the project team has been unable to implement the educational programming and on-farm visits due to the ongoing pandemic. However, several producers have indicated their interest in this project and have agreed to participate once we are able to begin.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Sarah Potts (Educator)
  • Dr. Amy Burk (Educator)
  • Susan Schoenian (Educator)
  • Jeff Semler (Educator)
  • Erika Crowl (Educator)
  • Andrew Kness (Educator)
  • Dr. Alan Leslie (Educator)
  • Dave Myers (Educator)
  • Charlie Sasscer (Educator)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

This project includes a multi-part educational plan consisting of field days, grazing schools, and on-farm pasture visits. Each of these components were designed to be in-person, hands-on learning activities. Altogether, the educational activities reached a total of 182 producers in 2021.

In 2021, a total of 5 educational field days were hosted at various locations across the state of Maryland. These field days were relatively informal, field-based events at which participants rotated through several learning stations each covering a different topic pertaining to grazing management. Examples of topics covered varied from event to event but included soil health and fertility, weed control options, pasture evaluation and assessment, grazing management, tall fescue management, planting considerations, pasture forage quality, and pasture renovation.

In the fall of 2021, two 2-day grazing schools were held at two locations in Maryland. These schools offered a more intensive and in-depth education on pasture management, grazing practices, and farm profitability. Class size for the grazing schools was limited to a maximum of 30 participants to better facilitate hands-on opportunities and give producers a chance to work with different grazing tools and experiment with implementing some of the practices learned. Participants were also supplied with a 'grazing school manual' containing printed publications, handouts, and examples of tools for things like completing a pasture assessment and had an opportunity to meet with an instructor to begin developing a customized grazing plan for their farm. Examples of topics covered in the grazing school included forage identification and selection, assessing pasture health, pasture management, pasture allocation, fencing and watering options, extending the grazing season, soil health and fertility, forage quality, designing a rotational grazing system, grazing economics, and increasing farm profitability.

Finally, a total of 10 farms were enrolled in the pasture management program for 2021. Though this program, Extension educators conducted an individualized farm visit to each of the enrolled farms. At the farm visit, producers were asked to share current and future grazing goals and educators discussed methods through which the producer could begin to improve pasture or grazing management on the farm. A pasture-based farm assessment was completed at each visit; this assessment included collection of soil and pasture samples for analysis, pasture composition and stand assessment, pasture yield assessment, and forage and weed identification. Following the farm visits, each farm was sent a binder containing their individualized analysis results, a summary of proposed plans and recommendations for their farm, and other supplemental information and educational material as requested. Each enrolled farm was also given the opportunity to attend one of the 2-day grazing schools at no cost. Moving forward, a follow-up farm visit will be conducted at each enrolled farm during 2022; additional forage samples and a second pasture assessment will be taken at this time and any additional concerns or questions can be addressed as needed.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will participate in one of the year one educational field days to learn more about specific topics pertaining to rotational grazing and pasture management and have opportunities to see these practices in action. As a result they can adopt at least one new best management practice on their farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
128
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
8
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 31, 2021
Accomplishments:

A total of 5 educational field days were hosted at various locations across the state of Maryland during the summer of 2021. Specific field days included an Equine Pasture Field Day (held June 22 and June 29 at two separate locations), a Small Ruminant Pasture Field Day (Aug 12), an Equine Pasture Renovation Field Day (Aug 17), and a Living with Fescue Field Day (Aug 24).  Each of these field days were relatively informal, field-based events at which participants rotated through several learning stations each covering a different topic pertaining to grazing management. Examples of topics covered varied from event to event but included soil health and fertility, weed control options, pasture evaluation and assessment, grazing management, tall fescue management, planting considerations, pasture forage quality, and pasture renovation. A total of 128 participants attended the field days, which were taught by a team of 8 Extension educators.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will take their grazing education one step further by attending one of the year one grazing schools to continue to expand on their knowledge and have opportunities to gain hands-on experience implementing these practices in a small group setting. As a result they will initiate a grazing plan for their farm and implement the use of at least one new pasture management tool or best management practice on their farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
44
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
7
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 31, 2021
Accomplishments:

In the fall of 2021, two 2-day grazing schools were held at two locations in Maryland. Both schools offered a more intensive and in-depth education for participants, with each taking a slightly different focus. The first grazing school focused more on pasture and grazing management and took place in Upper Marlboro, MD on Sept 23-24. The second grazing school focused more on grazing economics and farm profitability and took place in Keedysville, MD on Oct 14-15. Class size for both schools was limited to a maximum of 30 participants to better facilitate hands-on opportunities and small group discussion and to give producers a chance to work with different grazing tools and experiment with implementing some of the practices learned. Participants were also supplied with a 'grazing school manual' containing printed publications, handouts, and examples of tools for things like completing a pasture assessment. Opportunities were also provided for producers to meet with an instructor to begin developing a customized grazing plan for their farm. Examples of topics covered in the grazing schools included forage identification and selection, assessing pasture health, pasture management, pasture allocation, fencing and watering options, extending the grazing season, soil health and fertility, forage quality, designing a rotational grazing system, grazing economics, and increasing farm profitability. A total of 44 participants attended the grazing schools, which were taught by a team of 7 Extension educators and agricultural service providers.

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will be enrolled in the first year of the individualized grazing program which will provide them with an opportunity to interact one-on-one with experts on their farm. As a result they will complete a full pasture assessment, take soil and forage samples, and generate a detailed grazing plan with recommendations and strategies specific to their own farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
10
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
10
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 31, 2021
Accomplishments:

A total of 10 farms were enrolled in the pasture management program for 2021. Though this program, Extension educators conducted an individualized farm visit to each of the enrolled farms. Each of the farm visits included the project PI along with an Extension specialist (based on species at a given farm) and a local county-based agent. At the farm visit, producers were asked to share current and future grazing goals and educators discussed methods through which the producer could begin to improve pasture or grazing management on the farm. A pasture-based farm assessment was completed at each visit; this assessment included collection of soil and pasture samples for analysis, pasture composition and stand assessment, pasture yield assessment, and forage and weed identification. Following the farm visits, each farm was sent a binder containing their individualized analysis results, a summary of proposed plans and recommendations for their farm, and other supplemental information and educational material as requested. Each enrolled farm was also given the opportunity to attend one of the 2-day grazing schools at no cost. In total, the 2021 farms encompassed a total of 262 acres of pasture and included a combination of beef, sheep, equine, and mixed species operations. Moving forward, a follow-up farm visit will be conducted at each enrolled farm during 2022; additional forage samples and a second pasture assessment will be taken at this time and any additional concerns or questions can be addressed as needed.

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The producers enrolled in the first year of the individualized grazing program will complete a follow-up visit in the year following their initial farm visit. As a result they will have an opportunity to complete a follow-up pasture assessment, measure progress made in the past year, and discuss challenges and questions that have come up and how those might be overcome for future years.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

As a result of the pandemic and the associated travel restrictions and inability to conduct in-person meetings, workshops, etc., the start of the individualized grazing program was delayed by a year and the first on-farm visits were conducted in 2021 instead of in 2020 as originally planned. Because of this delay, the follow-up visits to these farms are also delayed by a year; these visits will occur during 2022.

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will participate in one of the year two educational field days to learn more about specific topics pertaining to rotational grazing and pasture management and have opportunities to see these practices in action. As a result they can adopt at least one new best management practice on their farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

As a result of the pandemic and the associated travel restrictions and inability to conduct in-person meetings, workshops, etc., the educational field days were delayed by a year and the first field days were conducted in 2021 instead of in 2020 as originally planned. Because of this delay, the year two educational field days are also delayed by a year; these will occur during 2022.

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will take their grazing education one step further by attending one of the year two grazing schools to continue to expand on their knowledge and have opportunities to gain hands-on experience implementing these practices in a small group setting. As a result they will initiate a grazing plan for their farm and implement the use of at least one new pasture management tool or best management practice on their farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

As a result of the pandemic and the associated travel restrictions and inability to conduct in-person meetings, workshops, etc., the grazing schools were delayed by a year and the first grazing schools were conducted in 2021 instead of in 2020 as originally planned. Because of this delay, the year two grazing schools are also delayed by a year; these will occur during 2022.

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will be enrolled in the second year of the individualized grazing program which will provide them with an opportunity to interact one-on-one with experts on their farm. As a result they will complete a full pasture assessment, take soil and forage samples, and generate a detailed grazing plan with recommendations and strategies specific to their own farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

As a result of the pandemic and the associated travel restrictions and inability to conduct in-person meetings, workshops, etc., the start of the individualized grazing program was delayed by a year and the first year of on-farm visits were conducted in 2021 instead of in 2020 as originally planned. Because of this delay, the second year of on-farm visits for the individualized grazing program are also delayed by a year; these visits will occur during 2022.

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The producers enrolled in the second year of the individualized grazing program will complete a follow-up visit in the year following their initial farm visit. As a result they will have an opportunity to complete a follow-up pasture assessment, measure progress made in the past year, and discuss challenges and questions that have come up and how those might be overcome for future years.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will participate in one of the year three educational field days to learn more about specific topics pertaining to rotational grazing and pasture management and have opportunities to see these practices in action. As a result they can adopt at least one new best management practice on their farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Producers will take their grazing education one step further by attending one of the year three grazing schools to continue to expand on their knowledge and have opportunities to gain hands-on experience implementing these practices in a small group setting. As a result they will initiate a grazing plan for their farm and implement the use of at least one new pasture management tool or best management practice on their farm.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

182 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
10 On-farm demonstrations
34 Webinars / talks / presentations
7 Workshop field days
10 Other educational activities: Individualized farm visits with pasture assessment

Participation Summary:

182 Farmers
14 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

85 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Following each of the 7 educational field days and/or grazing schools held in 2021, participants were asked to fill out a program evaluation form which included questions on program satisfaction, usefulness of information, knowledge gains, and intent to make changes based on the information presented. Participants were also asked what they liked about the program and were provided an opportunity to make comments or suggestions for improvements or future topics of interest. Of the 182 producers who attended the field days and/or grazing schools, 85 completed program evaluation forms were received. These completed program evaluations demonstrated an increase in knowledge gained by participants and an intention of participants to make at least one change in their operation based on the information presented.

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

Target: number of farmers:
20
Target: change/adoption:

Following grazing education and the generation of individual grazing plans at on-farm visits, producers will implement best management practices for rotational grazing on their farm.

Target: amount of production affected:

A minimum of 20 livestock farms will implement rotational grazing on at least 30 acres, resulting in 600 acres of rotationally grazed pasture.

Target: quantified benefit(s):

Producers will each adopt at least two new best management practices for rotational grazing. These best management practices will increase forage productivity and quality, extend the grazing season and increase pasture carrying capacity, and improve soil fertility, resulting in an overall improvement in net farm income.

Performance Target Outcome Narrative:

Due to the ongoing pandemic and the limitations on in-person activities, the start of this project and the associated educational activities was delayed from 2020 to 2021. Educational activities and pasture management program farm visits were successfully conducted in 2021, but due to this initial delay the verification that producers have adopted additional best management practices for rotational grazing has not yet been completed. Verification of the implementation of these practices and the achievement of designated performance targets will occur in 2022 through follow-up surveys sent to grazing school participants and follow-up visits to farms visited through the pasture management program. 

Additional Project Outcomes

2 New working collaborations
Additional Outcomes:

As a result of the educational activities conducted through this project, 2 new working collaborations have been established between University of Maryland Extension personnel and other University Extension services and/or agricultural service providers.

Success stories:

"Tons of great info and useful handouts" -Attendee of a pasture field day

"Really appreciate this opportunity. Thanks for being willing to host something a little different." -Attendee of a Maryland Grazing School

"Excellent program with theory and hands-on components. All topics were excellent and the presenters were helpful in answering questions with practical experiences." -Attendee of a Maryland Grazing School

"I thought this was a great class! I'd love to attend another that covers the next step of these topics. The instructors were great!" -Attendee of a Maryland Grazing School

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.