- Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Additional Plants: native plants
- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, manure management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, stocking rate, watering systems, winter forage
- Crop Production: nutrient cycling, application rate management, tissue analysis, conservation tillage
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
- Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use, solar energy
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, value added
- Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
- Soil Management: earthworms, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, organic matter, soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures
This project will build on previous trials to extend the grazing season. Because of the high demand for 100% grass-fed beef from the urban markets in the Northeast, lowering the number of the high- cost feed days in the non-growing season will save some of the costs of hay and thereby increase net profitability for grass-fed and grass-finished beef producers here. An area of ten acres will be picked for the winter trial and five cows with calves will be selected to graze this area. The key elements of the projects are 1) a grazing plan that initiates stockpiling with adequate time for growth before the end of the traditional grazing season, 2) analysis of the grass for quantity and quality at the end of the growing season, 3) monitoring the quantity and quality through the non-growing season, 4) applying the cattle to the land systematically through the non-growing season, 5) monitoring the weather during the trial, and 6) evaluating the cows and calves that are eating the stockpiled forages in comparison to cows and calves that are eating stored feeds. Our trial and measurements will provide data and a model for other farmers to use as a basis for reducing the number of hay-feeding days in the non-growing season. I am a regular contributor to Stockman Grassfarmer and Countryside, and speaker at NOFA every year. I will be doing outreach through these avenues in addition to outlets suggested by my technical advisor.
Project objectives from proposal:
Implementing winter grazing in Massachusetts successfully will require numerous things done right: 1) a grazing plan that initiates stockpiling with adequate time for growth before the end of the traditional grazing season, 2) analysis of the grass for quantity and quality at the end of the growing season, 3) monitoring the quantity and quality through the non-growing season, 4) applying the cattle systematically through the non-growing season, 5) monitoring the weather during the trial, and 6) evaluating the cows and calves that are eating the stockpiled forages in comparison to cows and calves that are eating stored feeds.
The Grazing Plan. We plan to use the Holistic Planned Grazing methodology for the entire year’s grazing. Holistic Management International has published the Aide Memoire, which helps shape the plan. Each day of the year is represented on the grazing chart, and all the available paddocks on the farm are listed. The various cattle “mobs” are described and numbered as well. This grazing chart allows one to plan for events around the year, such as breeding and calving, and helps make sure the cattle are where they belong at certain times. For instance, on our farm we black out certain areas to avoid during the time that the bobolinks nest and fledge their young per the agreement in our lease of the land. A critical part of the planning process for winter grazing will be to decide which paddocks to devote to the trial based on topography, water access and protection from wind, as these will be the areas where we will stockpile. The other important piece of the planning process is to decide when to initiate stockpiling. These paddocks might be grazed in June or mid-July but then should be allowed to grow.
Analysis of Grass. Forage analysis and measurement of volume of dry matter per acre are tools to allow us to evaluate the stockpile over time. Forage analysis will test for Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) and protein as well as minerals. Brix of the forage will be measured as well, with a reading taken at the beginning of the stockpile period. Percent of moisture will be useful in determining the amount of dry matter available for bovine consumption. These measurements will allow us to plan our stocking rate and daily moves of cattle. The grass will be tested at the end of the growing season (end of September) and then once a month during the non-growing season. This will give us a good idea of how, if and when the positive feed values erode or begin to lessen (or increase). This data should be useful in planning future winter grazing.
Applying the cattle. The stockpiled forage needs to be managed so that the cattle optimize it. The forage will continue to be fed in an area defined by electric fence, in the same way it is fed in the growing season to ration out the feed. Records of the approximate area and amount of forage in that area will be taken periodically. It will be interesting to see if the feed volume and quality meets expectations. The forage mix will be the normal mix in the paddock (generally an Orchard grass and clover mix) with no additional seeding of different species. Cattle will be observed for satiety and fill on a daily basis, and paddock sizes will be adjusted accordingly.
Evaluation of cattle. The most important outcome of the trial are to determine whether the cattle simply survive on this diet or whether they thrive. We do not expect much change in the cow in terms of weight gain, since they are generally at their mature weights. We will look at their BCS (Body Condition Score) and then weigh them at the commencement of the trial and periodically throughout the trial. The calves in our herd are expected to nurse their mothers for 10 months or so. These calves are our next generation of seed stock bulls and cows. We plan to weigh calves monthly and then compare their weights to calves in their sibling group that are kept on a hay only diet. If there are any dramatic drops in weight in the trial group, the trial will be suspended, and at any time if any cow/calf pair show negative impacts because of the stockpiled feedstuffs, the pair will be removed from the trial. Records will also be maintained of the weather and weather events that occur during the trial.
In 2011, the area to be winter grazed will be determined at the time of planning the grazing for the summer (April/May). An area of 20 acres will be picked for the winter trial and ten cows with calves will be selected to graze this area. Electric fences will be used and moved daily to accommodate a new “bite” daily. Cattle for participation in the trial will be selected in the summer of 2011.
The physical trial will be for a period of one year; reporting will take an additional year. Planning will start in April 2011, measuring will begin with the initiation of stockpiling in July 2011 and measuring will continue with the commencement of grazing in October 2011 and be done every month thereafter by OTW farm staff. Collating data and writing reports will be done by April 2012 with articles and presentations completed by April 2013.
Forage samples will be submitted to the Cornell University testing service. These tests will be taken at the initiation of the stockpile process (approximately July 15) and then at the end of the growing season (October 1). Samples from the same paddock will be analyzed before moving the grazing cows into the paddock on November 1, December 1,January 1, February 1, and March 1.
Brix reading of the same forage samples will be recorded on the same dates.
Anecdotal notes will be recorded at the time of testing that will include any observations about weather, water, snow cover, ice etc.
Photographs of the paddock that is being tested will be made at the time of testing the fresh paddock. Photographs of the paddocks that have been recently grazed will also be taken.
Weights of the calves of the trial group and the control group will be taken at the time of testing.
Finally the actual paddocks used will be recorded on the grazing plan. The proposed grazing will be marked with a colored dot and then the actual grazing days will be recorded with a colored-in box for both the trial and control paddocks.
Additionally, we will sample hay and haylage from various vendors in the Northeast—as many as six samples. These bales will be weighed and sampled with a forage test shortly after they are made and purchased, and then will be tested periodically through the non-growing season to see if the feed values change during this time period. The cost of these bales will be recorded as well, including the transport cost. If possible we will attempt to obtain forage samples from the field before it is cut and baled. Hay from one of these vendors will be fed to the control group of cattle. This set of data will help us evaluate the value of the winter grazed forage in dollars and quality of feed available to the bovine. This will also allow us to analyze the economic benefit of winter or extended grazing.