Impact of Rotational Grazing on Species Composition in a Square Foot Plot During a 21 Day Rotational Grazing Cycle - May through September, 2009

Final Report for YNC08-007

Project Type: Youth
Funds awarded in 2008: $263.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Graham Rider
Thistle Byre Farm
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Project Information

Summary:

BACKGROUND
I have been involved on our family’s certified organic farm since it began 5-6 years ago. I enjoy working with my small pure bred Belted Galloway and Scottish Highland Cross cows and I am proposing a cow-share program for our farm. I tend my chicken flock and like selling the eggs they produce. This year we grew four different types of potatoes. I took care of them, dug them and sold them. Each variety had an interesting story and it was exciting to share these stories with my customers. I am beginning a small flock of ducks for meat and eggs and I am helping my mother with her heirloom turkey breeding flock.

Between May and October, I enjoy selling to customers and eating an English scone each market day! I am interested in the CSA customers we have and have noticed they like to know about the details of how their food is grown. I spend quite a bit of my time reading books from Purdue’s livestock classes and the ACRES bookshelf. I tend to enjoy the animal science and management topics best. My brother, Andrew, and I have had the opportunity to attend several farm conferences with my parents. I enjoy the MOSES and ACRES conferences the most. They tend to have the best selection of classes for us to learn from. We were both able to attend a bee keeping day long class at MOSES and I am continuing to learn about keeping bees. I hope to have two hives on our farm to improve pollination among our fruit trees and provide our family with honey for making bread. My parents wanted us to learn about it completely before we attempted it at our farm. This is why I have wanted to learn more about grazing. My parents think grass based meat production makes the most sense for us and for our customer’s health.
We have hatched some of our chickens in the past. I would like to hatch all my own replacement egg layers. I have been looking at incubators and am saving money for this project. I sell my eggs at our CSA, a health food store and at farmer’s market. I like to watch auctions and ads for used equipment when I can. I am trying to read books and learn all I can about poultry. This year we hope to have our egg mobile follow my cows in the pasture. My brother and I made it with a friend on a wagon bed my mother bought at an auction for $20.00. My sister and little brother help me wash my eggs.

The pasture I used in my project was being reclaimed. It was the first year any livestock had been grazed on it in years. We had only owned the farm about a year at the time I began my project. We bought the farm in foreclosure so it was very messy and neglected. Manure was left in the barns and it had been there for many years. Many dead cow bones were found in the hog barn stalls. Junk was everywhere. We cleaned up and hauled away a silo in disrepair and 80 tires. We recycled as much as we could. We rebuilt the stalls with the wood we reclaimed from taking the fronts off several of the stalls and we salvaged other supplies from the dump and our inventory.

We fixed the fence around the perimeter, filled in the hog manure pits and added gates my mother bought at auctions. We added an electrical wire around the perimeter of the pasture. This was done with the help of a Mennonite neighbor. I had to change the charger and make it stronger than our solar one was to keep my cows in. We had a very wet spring and the grasses grew well. My pasture is surrounded on two sides by a classified forest and a road on one of the other sides. The fourth side faced the rest of our farm ground. It was about 6 acres in size.

GOALS
I wanted to explore the species composition or plant communities of three square foot plots in our pasture. A plant community is the sown and unsown plant species that make up my pastures. My goals were to learn more about grazing in general by reading and attending the SARE conference and to look at the species variety in my pasture with my animals over most of the grazing months. I wanted to see if grazing changed the makeup of the forbs, legumes and grasses that were in this pasture. Our vet, Dr. Paul Detloff, likes to see my cows eat over 100 different plant species weekly. My animals aren’t doing this at this time. My pasture is only as good as the soil and vegetation that grow on it. The ACRES Conference seemed to focus on the soil and its health the most. It also gave me a chance to meet other rotational grazers and hear their stories.

I have gotten to know Dr. Paul Detloff, our biological vet, who keeps asking me about the “next step.” He is the one who sparked my interest in this project. I enjoy working with my cows and our sheep. He is very encouraging and helped me see the importance of increasing our pasture’s diversification. I think preventive health, good nutrition and biological animal care make the most sense. In the future I would like to be a veterinarian and a human medical doctor with a more biological focus like Dr. Detloff.

Joel Salatin and Greg Judy have both written and spoken about many grazing ideas. They both talk about healing the land with their grazing styles and animals management practices. I have a limited budget. They seem to appreciate this situation and have thought outside of the box on their own farms. My parents have encouraged me to do so, too. I hope to use what limited dollars we do have wisely. Reading and this sort of experience I hoped would give me the tools to help make better decisions with my parents.

PROCESS
My project involved 3 plots each measured to be one square foot. I counted the plants in each plot monthly between May and September. Dr. Lori U. Synder, a Purdue agronomist, helped me determine that a 21 day rotational grazing cycle might help me avoid parasite problems and allow for good regrowth between grazing periods. Most of this pasture was fescue. Probably with the seed born endophyte positive fescue we found in another field we had tested. Dr. Uruh Synder has visited our farm with Dr. Mark Lucas another agronomist twice. They both felt we should over seed this area…but we do not have the money to do that now. I wanted to see if grazing alone would increase the variety of forbs, grasses and legumes in the pasture. This was shown to be true in my plots. (Please see power point and graphs) This season the pasture was shared with my brother’s hogs. They rooted it up and smoothed out the terrain.

Each paddock was a bit over 1 3/4 acres for a total of three areas.
This pasture had a woven wire perimeter fence and one hot wire. The internal paddocks were made with step in posts from Premier. These posts held one strand of woven rope wire. I think two would have been best. Our cows weren’t used to grazing in a controlled way. They didn’t like to stay in their paddocks. We had 4 cow-calf pairs and several 500-600 pound animals that didn’t seem to honor one strand well. I updated my charger during the summer and tried to get a bit more of a shock into our fence. We have what should be adequate grounding but we had trouble with both the cows and the hogs staying where they were put all summer. One of this next year’s goals is to revisit the fencing. I read on and off throughout the project. We kept looking at the fence and were baffled by what we were hearing should work and what we were finding to be true.

In November we traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the ACRES conference. I talked with the editor and he has asked for my project to be sent to him. I was able to attend many interesting seminars and speak with folks in the trade show area. Here is a listing of some of the talks I listened to:

*Developing a Biodiverse Pasture …… K. Dallefeld
*Pigs on Pasture …….-Dr. William Winter
*High Density Grazing Systems That Work ….. Greg Judy
*Homeopathy on the Farm ….Dr. Gary Dupree, DVM
*Producing Food as Medicine Medicinal Beef …….Gerald Fry
*Eating What You Grow ……. Mary Howell Martens
*Livestock, Cattle Breeding ….. Gerald Fry
*Livestock Grazing and Soil Fertility…… Cody Holmes
*Human Health, Agronomy, and Animal Health ……. Jerry Brunetti
*Taking Back the American Food Chain …. Mark MccAfee

I also watched the movies Dirt, Fresh, and Food, Inc. They were all very good and our family has copies to share with customers at farmer’s market. In addition to hearing these speakers and movies I was able to see many new books at the book table and learn how to test the brix of my grasses from Dr. Will Winter a vet and fellow farmer attending the conference.

PEOPLE
Many people helped me with my projects and inspired me to enjoy farming. It is fun for me to explore topics I enjoy. This project was more complicated because we were moving to this farm and had never had animals at it before. We moved our cows and pigs over to the new farm in the spring of this year for the first time. An Amish friend, named Elmer, helped me with the moving of my cows. A Mennonite man helped me get the fences in working order. My mother and brother, Andrew, helped me stay focused and my sister, Sarah, wrote the numbers of plants down I counted. Dr. Lois Campbell encouraged me weekly with her questions every week at farmer’s market. I received more support than he probably realizes he gave me from Dr. Paul Detloff. He is an encourager. He would tell me stories about his work, ask questions, and probe my ideas. He challenges me to think about the “next level” what comes after my current project. He has helped me have a vision for the future in farming and medicine.

Dr. Uruh- Synder was in Costa Rica most of the growing season. She helped me hone my project into something that was measurable. She has been to our farm twice, but I would have liked to show her my plots. She directed me to some good books. Dr. Mark Lucas, an agronomist, has emailed me articles and other helps throughout the project. He is an agronomist and has been to our farm twice.

The books I was able to buy with the grant money have been very helpful. I was also able to read Joel Salatin’s book, Salad Bar Beef. I like his writing and find him to be practical. Our family has visited his farm for the self-guided tour. Greg Judy has encouraged me. We ordered two of his books and hope to read them over the winter. My brother and I have showed our project sites and shared the project information at our CSA picnic. We hope to put our Power Points and written reports on our farm websites. We have enjoyed sharing our projects one on one at Farmer’s Market with our customers. Many of them are Purdue staff members and do research themselves. They have been very encouraging and made suggestions.

My mother helped me with the typing and Power Point presentations. I took many of the pictures myself but no one in our family had experience with Power Point presentations. Our Columbian exchange student who is a computer expert showed my mother some hints. This was a new experience for our whole family.

I enjoyed attending the 17th National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Missouri this fall. I heard several presenters including Greg Judy talk about grazing.

RESULTS
At the end of my project the three plots had increased in diversity slightly. The plot that increased the species diversity the greatest was located near the barn and the road. It increased in the number of forbs or broad-leafed plants located among the fescue. Maybe this is due to the concentration of manure that area has had in past years. My plots decreased in species diversity change back by the woods. There were no legumes and about equal parts of grass and forbs between May and September. (Please see my Power Point and graph.) Legumes did not seem to increase in density in any of my plots. This leads me to believe I might want to spend money to overseed these nitrogen-fixing plants. One author reports a significant increase in weaning weights when legumes are present among the grasses and forbs.

Jim Gerrish’s book Management Intensive Grazing, discussed using my animals as tools to farm grasses. He believes “farming systems should enhance the land and not just sustain it.” He thinks of an acre of land as “43,560 square feet of solar panel.” He encouraged grazers to think of themselves as grass farmers. I learned that having “legumes in the grass pasture can add 30-100 pounds of weaning weight and can increase conception rates” in the grazed animals. It was interesting to think of the soil as physical, biological and chemical parts. Without any one of these the soil can’t be healthy and productive. Mr. Gerrish believes animals are the tools farmers use to reach their goals and enhance their soils.

I read several other books including Frank D. Gardner’s book about Traditional American Farming Techniques. I am interested in some of his fodder ideas using forage peas, sugar beets and mangels. He also talked about using annual legumes in summer pasture. I have gotten some ideas about planting fruit trees in my chicken pasture from him as well. I had a hard time reading and understanding Forage Production for Pasture-Based Livestock Production by Edward B. Rayburn. It will be a good reference but it isn’t easy reading like Joel Salatin. It is very technical. I didn’t read the whole book. Bill Murphy wrote Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence. This was fun to read and it reminded me of the Gerrish book in many ways. I heavily skimmed the whole book and read several sections completely. He went into paddock information and had layout ideas. He did not believe you needed many paddocks to be successful. He also discussed the effect of grazing on the plants in the pasture and agreed that it would result in more diversity.

DISCUSSION
I had fun doing my project. I learned that I can influence the diversity of the vegetation by grazing. It would be more significant to watch this process over a longer period of time…years maybe. It will be interesting for me to watch the process continue. I have gotten interested in MOB grazing. Animals are moved daily to new grass. Joel Salatin and Greg Judy follow this style of grazing. They graze in a mob and move forward together. I was also interested in reading about ewe-lamb pairs moving in such a way that the lambs got the best pasture first by being allowed to move under the fence to the newest grass before their mothers. I would like to try a combination of these in two areas nest year. I think this pasture needs to have legumes added to the fescue and forbs that exist now. The pigs have worked the soil up enough to make over seeding in March a good option. Karl Dallefeld has an herbal pasture mixture we are interested in trying for a portion of our pasture.

I would have liked to change my fences to very strongly charged two-wire temporary paddock fences early in the season. My cows learned to test the fences while they were weak and seemed to never completely respect the internal fencing arrangement we had set up. I hope we can put more perimeter fence up in other areas of the farm next year and try this system with sheep and no hogs. Andrew’s hogs are hard on fences. I wonder if Andrew’s piglets affected my cows’ behavior. They seemed to get along well, but I wonder if they were spooked through the internal fence some of the time.

I enjoy reading and will continue my interest in cattle, chickens and grazing. We hope to live at the farm next year. That will make watching my animals much easier. I think watching them and being there is important. I had a difficult time with identifying some grasses. I consulted Dr. Lucas and he said sometimes seeing the seed head helps. My grasses didn’t often have that chance. I would have liked to have known of some more specific identification resources for this part of my project. I did use the internet, but there were still questions…I think my grasses were all fescues. I will be sharing this project with our website and am open to any other opportunities. The ACRES editor wanted me to email him this project after I finished it. I have learned a lot going through all the steps of the process. Thank you for giving me the chance to look into this topic.

Research

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.