Making pasture walks more than just a walk in the pasture

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $72,060.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: DATCP
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Laura Paine
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, goats, poultry, sheep, swine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, manure management, pasture renovation, pasture fertility, stocking rate, stockpiled forages, watering systems, winter forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, study circle, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, risk management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: cultural control, physical control
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil microbiology
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Over 140 pasture walks are held each year in Wisconsin, but the quality of the educational experience provided can vary dramatically. At its best, a pasture walk blends farmer-to-farmer learning with the sciences of plant physiology and animal nutrition; at its worst, a pasture walk is simply a walk in the pasture. This project seeks to merge the established informal communication and education mechanisms that serve grazing farmers with institutional research-based resources. Recognizing the strengths of both of these approaches, we will create a structure that integrates them and provides agency and non-profit staff engaged in grazing education a forum for sharing ideas, information, and expertise. A good grazing educator needs expertise in adult education, plant and animal science, and facilitation of farmer-led discussions, among other things. Among the Extension agents, Land Conservation and NRCS staff, experienced farmers, and others who work with graziers, few have all of these skills, and all would benefit from the expertise others bring to the table as well as from access to research-based information tailored to their region. This project builds on a one year pilot project begun by GrassWorks, Inc., Wisconsin’s non-profit grazing farmer organization. The two ‘educators roundtables’ held in the last year were well-received by over 50 participants from a variety of agencies. This project will expand on this successful model with the goal of ‘leveling the playing field’ so that a farmer in any region will have a similar high quality educational experience no matter whose pasture they’re walking.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Outcomes and Measurement
    Short-term outcomes will include:
    1) establishment of an information sharing network among university, agency and grant-funded non-profit staff working with graziers in the region
    2) increased awareness among these personnel of the strengths and qualities of both research-based information and farmer-to-farmer learning for this audience
    3) more effective integration of resources and programming among all parties whose common goal is providing high quality education on managed grazing.

    Establishment of an information sharing network will involve identifying potential partners in grazing education and supporting construction of a physical and virtual network that meets their needs and that we hope will be sustainable after the project is over. We will monitor the development of this network and document increased interaction and partnerships among participants over the course of the project. Our target is to have 50% of those who participate in any project events commit to staying involved in this network.

    Increased awareness among these personnel of the strengths and qualities of both research-based information and farmer-to-farmer learning for this audience will be measured through traditional survey methods including our pre-project survey and periodic surveys during the project. We will also evaluate participants’ use of these newly learned skills by attending pasture walks that they facilitate. Each participant will come to the project with a unique set of skills and skill-building needs. We expect all of our participants to share their knowledge with one another so that everyone will take home something that will enhance their skills as grazing educators.

    We will measure increases in integration of resources and programming among all parties whose common goal is providing high quality education on managed grazing via pre-project and periodic surveys of participants as well as by monitoring specific indicators such as regional and multi-network collaboration (to bring in outside speakers, for example), ‘field trips’ of one network to visit another network, and other examples of collaboration.

    Intermediate outcomes will include:
    1) wide-spread availability of consistent, information-rich educational opportunities for farmers wishing to establish a pasture-based system or improve their existing system provided by a robust collaborative network of educators and technical assistance providers
    2) as a result of building these resources and structures, increased numbers of well-managed, pasture-based livestock farms.

    Increased availability of consistent, information-rich educational opportunities will be measured by surveys at the end of the project of the farmer clientele of project participants. We will also use measures such as increases or decreases in the number of requests for information, numbers of events and activities planned and carried out, and survey data on the number of times project participants call on others in the network for information and assistance.

    We expect to observe increased numbers of well-managed, pasture-based livestock farms as a result of building these resources and structures. This will be measured by clientele surveys and soliciting data from project participants on numbers of farms converting to managed grazing in their areas. We can also potentially utilize public data sources such as the National Agricultural Statistics Service to document changes.

    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.