Making pasture walks more than just a walk in the pasture
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 has 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.
Short-term outcomes 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, and 3) more effective integration of resources and programming among all parties whose common goal is providing high quality education on managed grazing.
Intermediate outcomes 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, and 2) as a result of building these resources and structures, increased numbers of well-managed, pasture-based livestock farms.
We plan to conduct 6 to 12 face-to-face workshops, pasture walks, and virtual meetings for 20 to 40 grazing educators from around the state and in neighboring states, and one or two statewide, day-long Extension sponsored Grazing Teaching and Technology conferences for up to 60 participants. These activities will provide training and information sharing on farmer to farmer learning, adult education methods and integration of both, as well as research-based technical information.
Topics for these sessions include basic subjects such as pasture rest/rotation principles, seeding mixes, pasture fertilization, watering and fencing design and grazing planning. We will also cover advanced topics such as low stress livestock handling, managing pastures for drought, stockpiling pasture to extend the grazing season, finishing meat animals, raising dairy heifers, and outwintering. The majority of sessions will have both a formal, classroom-style presentation as well as an on-farm, hands-on component. We will incorporate presentations by UW faculty who have had or have on-going research funded by the GLCI grant program and other sources.
Adult learning topics will include information on how adults learn including specific information on farmers as learners such as a focus on information utility, hands-on testing of new knowledge, and learner control of the learning experience. We will also incorporate educator-to-educator sharing on facilitating farmer discussion groups, drawing both from Extension education resources (Taylor-Powell 2008) as well as from the experience of effective grazing educators within the group. We will utilize both formal teaching and ‘role-playing’ as means of building skills among participants.
A final output will be a collection of resources, either existing or newly developed, tailored to the needs of grazing educators. There is an extensive body of knowledge on managed grazing available, but it is dispersed and not always available in a format that is easily utilized in the field. This project will assemble basic materials needed by grazing educators in the North Central Region and identify gaps in information which members of our group may be able to fill either as part of this project or with future efforts.
In 2011, we assembled our planning team, which met on 3/29/11, 6/8/11, 8/8/11, and 12/21/11. We worked on specific planning for the two workshops we conducted on May 18th and October 11th and also made long term plans of what topics we would cover over the course of the project, based on our original goals as well as on input from participants in the first two workshops.
We conducted our first two grazing educators workshops on May 18th and October 11th. They are summarized as follows:
Title: Out-wintering Cattle- A Conservation Practice?
Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Location: Stevens Point, WI
10:00 a.m. Introductions and Overview of the Day Pillsbury, NRCS
10:10 a.m. Understanding Nutrient and Sediment Loss Fred Madison and
From Overwintering Livestock Areas Tim Radatz, UW Extension
11:10 a.m. Farm Management of Overwintering Livestock Areas Kevin Mahalko, Producer
11:30 a.m. New Education Program for Grazing Specialists Laura Paine, DATCP and Agency Staff
12:15 p.m. Introduction to Host Farm and Directions for Bill Kolodziej, Producer
1:30 p.m. Leave for afternoon field Session at Kolodziej Beef Farm to see outwintering practices
Title: Facilitating Pasture Walks and Farmer Discussion Groups
Presenter: Dr. Woody Lane, Lane Livestock Services
Date: Tuesday, October 11
Location: Lodi, WI
9:30 am Forage Discussion Groups — an overview
• Basic concepts, principles, various models, finances
• Forming a group
• Conducting the meetings, facilitator roles & tasks
• People dynamics, new members
• Experiences from other groups
12 pm Lunch and roundtable discussions.
Focused discussions about facilitation, discussion groups, pasture walks, techniques—what works and what doesn’t.
1 pm Pasture walk at Dick Ryan farm, Spring Creek Pasture.
Walk down the road to Dick’s pasture. Role playing a “Forage Group Meeting” consisting of a pasture walk and a focused discussion. After the pasture walk the group will go indoors for a technical discussion of how Dick integrates livestock, forages, soils, and economics on his farm. Discussion will include some financial points, as well as sharing of options that attendees have observed on other farms.
2:30 pm Final discussion and wrap up.
Return to the meeting room for a final wrap up. This part will be a step-back period: an examination of the afternoon “Forage Group Meeting” — sharing perceptions, what has been learned, and participants’ experiences with previous groups and grazing networks. Discussion on how the model of a sustainable forage group can be successfully managed in the context of agency procedures.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Evaluation results were very positive for the May 18th workshop, with an average of 56% of respondents rating each of the speakers high or very high in value. In response to the question of whether we are meeting our goals of providing 1) a foundation of science-based information, 2) insights into the practical application of concepts in real, on-farm situations, and 3) opportunities for networking and sharing information among participants, 75% of respondents rates the program high or very high. Additional evaluation results are attached.
For the Woody Lane workshop on October 11th we asked several before-and-after questions. In terms of their understanding of effective facilitation of pasture walks, participants increased from an average score of 3.05 to 3.95 out of five. In terms of understanding the keys to maintaining an effective farmer discussion group, participants’ scores increased from 2.73 to 3.95. Overall, participants rated the workshop a four out of five, with 82% rating the content high or very high. Additional evaluation results are attached.
Our third workshop is being held on April 4th in Black River Falls, WI and is focused on the nuts and bolts of pasture walks, workshops and assessing needs, with the following agenda.
10 am Introductions
10:15 Panel discussion on pasture walk facilitation including:
• Vance Haugen: rules of the game—how to set the stage for a good cohesive discussion by having a shared set of rules.
• Paul Daigle: how to handle large pasture walk groups
• Craig Saxe: preparing for/pre-planning a pasture walk, preliminary visits, identifying topics, etc.
• Mary Anderson: grass series, winter discussion groups
• Laura Paine: needs assessments—surveying your network members to identify topics of interest
12:15 Lunchtime presentation on animal health on pasture (pink eye, parasites, etc.) Dr. Sandy Stuttgen (Veterinarian and UWEX Taylor County Agriculture Agent).
1:30 Real world economics. Rhonda Gildersleeve and Doug Marshall
Economic performance of dairy and beef graziers in Wisconsin, plus comparison of production costs for pasture, dry hay, haylage, and grain.
2:30 Open discussion, wrap up and evaluation.
3 pm Adjourn.
Farm Business Management Instructor
Madison Area Technical College
300 Alexander Avenue
Reedsburg, WI 53959
Office Phone: 6085247800
State Grazing Specialist
USDA Service Center
505 Broadway, Suite 232
Baraboo, WI 53913
Office Phone: 6083554420