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 have created 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.
In 2012, our planning team met on 5/30/12, 62/8/12, 9/24/12, and 11/28/12, either in person or via conference call. We worked on specific planning for the three workshops we conducted in 2012 and also planned three workshops for 2013, including a session on climate change at the Wisconsin Grazing Conference in January, a workshop on partnerships, funding sources, and networking on March, and a soil fertility workshop planned for the summer.
In 2012, we conducted three workshops for grazing educators on April 4, August 28, and October 24. Summaries of each workshop:
April 4: Workshop on educational programming for grazing networks. 31 participants.
Topics included a panel discussion on facilitating pasture walks including rules of the game, how to handle large pasture walk groups, preparing farmer hosts for their pasture walk, alternative structures such as ‘grass series’ and winter discussion groups, and needs assessment—surveying your network members to identify topics of interest. In addition, presentations were made by Extension and Technical College faculty on animal health on pasture and economic performance of dairy and beef graziers.
August 28: Extension Grazing Research Update Conference. 51 participants.
A partnership program with University of Wisconsin Extension and the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center. This was a research update session including presentations on Crop Cocktails for Grazing, A Cluster Analysis to Describe Profitability on Wisconsin Dairy Farms, Evaluation of Tall and Meadow Fescues in Combination with White Clover in a Stocker Rotational Grazing System, Characterization of Certified Organic Wisconsin Dairy Farms: Management Practices, Feeding Regimes, and Milk Production, Use of Mob Grazing and Other Control Options for Canada Thistle, Stocker Gains on Kura Clover Pastures at Two Stocking Rates, Meadow Fescue Breeding Update and Seed Production of New Cultivars, and a tour of US Dairy Forage Research Center Pasture & Grazing Projects.
October 24: Nutrient Management Planning for grazing farms. 29 participants.
Nutrient Management Planning for Pasture-Based Farms. Topics included a presentation on the relationship between grazing planning and nutrient management planning and the basics of determining carrying capacity and animal units per acre, how the phosphorus index will affect Nutrient Management Planning on grazing farms, and a farm tour and presentation on a grass-based organic dairy farm’s comprehensive nutrient management plan, how they use it, and how it differs from a conventional NMP and an organic system plan.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We evaluated all workshops using SurveyMonkey.
April 4, 2012
For our April 4th workshop on educational programming for grazing networks, we held a two hour long panel discussion covering the spectrum of activities from needs assessment, to facilitating a pasture walk, to addressing the needs of experienced graziers. Thirty one Extension, NCRS, Land Conservation, and grant funded educators attended.
Evaluation results are as follows:
•When asked to rate their understanding of how to plan and facilitate an effective pasture walk, 100% of participants rated their understanding high or very high after the training, compared to 43.3% before the training.
•When asked to rate their understanding of how to plan and carry out an educational program for a grazing network, 96.2% rated their understanding high or very high after the training, compared to 37.7% before the training.
We also had respondents match key concepts to presentation titles and an average of 85.4% of them correctly matched the concept with the title. See table for details.
August 28, 2012
For our August 28 Grazing Teaching and Technology Conference, we had a series of five research presentations, plus a tour of the Dairy Forage Research Center including three research presentations. Fifty one educators attended.
•Sixty-nine percent of participants rated the event high or very high in terms of information they can use with their clientele.
•Eighty seven percent indicated that their goals were met well or very well.
•Quality of the presentations was ranked high or very high by between 80% and 32% of participants, with an average of 58.2%.
•Value of the presentations was ranked high or very high by between 78% and 24% of participants, with an average of 59.7%.
•We had one graduate student who presented on a rather complicated topic that was difficult to understand. Without her scores, which were quite low, the averages were 64.8% for both the presentation quality and value questions.
October 24, 2012
Our third workshop, on nutrient management planning for grazing farms was prompted by a new state law taking effect on July 1, 2012, requiring pastures to be considered as part of Wisconsin’s nutrient management planning requirement. We brought in regulatory staff from NRCS, the Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture to present on this subject, and incorporated a farm tour and presentation by a pasture based organic dairy that has developed a comprehensive nutrient management plan for their farm.
•When asked to rate their understanding of the site specific nature of Wisconsin run-off rules as they relate to livestock, 50% of participants rated their knowledge low prior to the workshop. After the workshop, 60% rated their knowledge moderate and 40% rated their knowledge high.
oScores, on a 1 to 5 scale moved up from an average of 2.7 before the workshop to 3.4 after the workshop.
•When asked to rate their understanding of when a nutrient management plan is required for pastures, 40% of participants rated their knowledge low prior to the workshop. After the workshop, 50% rated their knowledge moderate and 40% rated their knowledge high.
oScores, on a 1 to 5 scale moved up from an average of 2.7 before the workshop to 3.3 after the workshop.
•When asked to rate their understanding of the phosphorus index and nutrient management planning software, 30% of participants rated their knowledge low or very low prior to the workshop. After the workshop, 40% rated their knowledge moderate and 40% rated their knowledge high.
o Scores, on a 1 to 5 scale moved up from an average of 2.8 before the workshop to 3.2 after the workshop.
•Ninety percent of participants valued the farm tour high or very high and 90% also rated the quality and value of the entire workshop as high or very high.
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