- Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)
- Animal Production: grazing management
- Education and Training: technical assistance, small group learning environment
Problem and justification
Pasture is often one of the most under-utilized resources on the farm and a poorly managed pasture can be subject to overgrazing damage, soil compaction, and nutrient run-off, providing minimal feed value to livestock. Farmers who are under-utilizing their pastures, or not utilizing pasture at all, have higher production costs. However, with a paradigm shift by the farmer to understand pasture as a crop to be managed, they can produce high quality forages that support livestock production at lower cost and improve soil health and water quality. To achieve healthy pasture ecosystems, the producer must understand the relationship between the soil, the pasture plants, and livestock grazing behavior. When farmers consider adopting new or improved grazing practices, they typically have a grazing plan written by a technical service provider, but rarely is it combined with extensive education or one-on-one continuing support that increases the likelihood of success. Without farmer investment or service provider support, an otherwise good plan may fail. Farmers looking to tap into the organic or grass-fed markets need to be empowered to create their grazing plan and improve their management to meet the requirements necessary to achieve those premiums.
Solution and approach
Farmer engagement in pasture planning is critical for successful implementation. The purpose of the pasture management course is to provide a small group learning opportunity where farmers who are considering grazing as a new management practice and farmers who would like to improve their existing management can gain an understanding of the fundamental concepts of grazing and have an active role in the planning practice.
Each farmer will develop a plan tailor-made to their operation and account for differences in landowner goals, land base, soil type, forage species, livestock breeds and genetics and management practices. While each farm will have an overall goal of maximizing forage intake through grazing, there will be differences in application from farm to farm. Classes and field days will complement a one-on-one approach to develop a well-designed and well-managed system that will collectively reduce barriers to farmer adoption and success.
Performance targets from proposal:
Twenty-four livestock farmers complete a pasture management course and develop their own farm-specific grazing plans to gain an in-depth understanding of grazing concepts, which results in the implementation of new or improved grazing practices on approximately 1,920 acres and reduces feed costs per cow by $1.00/day during the grazing season.