Renovating Pastures with Outwintering and Fallowing

Project Overview

FNC03-451
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $8,488.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: housing, manure management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: fallow, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Summary:

    BACKGROUND
    Our family operates a 137 acre 80 cow dairy farm. We have no hired labor. Our milk goes to a small (31 farms) cheese factory. The whole farm is in forages, permanent pasture and alfalfa-based hayfields.

    We have been grazing since 1994 and have gradually quit growing corn and increasing pasture acres since then.

    DISCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    The proposal said “This project will help explain why grass growth, density, and quality improves in pastures where cows have been outwintered and the pastures fallowed (rested) for several months the following growing season.”

    We planned the project to collect data on what we were doing as we manage our pastures this way. Two other farms in our grazing network that outwinter were also part of the project.

    Two paddocks were chosen, one outwintered in 2003-2004 and one grazed. Carl Fredericks took soil tests in the fall before outwintering and counted measured composition. We kept track of cow numbers and how many days they were on the paddock and how many bales were fed over the winter. Carl also measured grass yields in the fallowed and check paddocks during the growing season. Michael Fields institute dug the root samples in both summers.

    The results were what we had expected. Before we started outwintering in a single paddock, we hauled bales daily to paddocks around the farm and fed cows for 1-2 weeks on each paddock. This damaged some of the pastures because cows would graze and tread on plants that started to green up during winter thaws. Keeping everything on one paddock solves that problem and reduces compaction.
    The project let us compare the results on our farm with the two other farms. The other farms made hay on their rested paddocks and didn’t have the benefits of the mulch in dry summer of 2005. The mulch on our outwintered paddock held moisture, and farmers at out August 24 pasture walk were very impressed at the amount of grass.

    We also learned how much manure was going on the outwintered paddock.

    I would tell other farms interested in outwintering to do it—it works. But consider the land you are using and the amount of animal impact you want on it. Focus on poor soil first, put nutrients where they are needed. I wouldn’t do it on our bottom land, which is too wet and fertile. Pull cows off the paddocks during major thaws. Make sure you feed good quality hay to avoid negative effects on animals.

    OUTREACH
    In 2004, our grazing network had pasture walks at Vosberg’s (6/23), Gausmann’s (7/10) and Paris’ (8/25). The farmers briefly described the project at Vosberg and Gausman walks and Carl Fredericks talked about the project in detail at the Paris walk. About 20 people attended the Gausman walk and over 30 were at both the Vosberg and Paris walks.

    Carl also spoke to about 40 people at a January 2005 UW extension program in Iowa County, and about 50 people at a extension program in Fond du Lac County in March. He was also on the Wisconsin Grazing Conference program in February and spoke to about 75 people in a break-out session.

    In 2005, a June 29 pasture walk at the Paris farm was attended by about 30 people. About 25 farmers in Madison Area Technical College’s farm business program toured the Paris farm including the outwintered and check paddocks on August 18. An August 24 pasture walk at Vosbergs attracted about 25 people including a group of farmers and extension staff from Missouri. About 20 people were at an October 12 pasture walk at Gausmans. The project was discussed in detail at all three walks.

    Two articles have been published in Graze magazine describing the project (January 2004 and August-September 2005). This publication has several hundred subscribers in the Midwestern and Northeastern states. Project results will also be summarized in a fact sheet that will be distributed through the Wisconsin NRCS GLCI (Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative) in the winter of 2006. There will probably be another Graze article describing final project results. Since outwintering and fallowing is being used by these Dane-Green network farms, results will be talked about at future pasture walks on these farms and at other events that these farmers speak at.

    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.