October 2, 2011

Local farm to demonstrate grazing

PETER HAGAR, Cornell Ag Connection

---- — There is no doubt about it, the days are getting shorter and cooler, the leaves are starting to turn colors and drop and farmers are starting to harvest their fall crops.

Because of our long winter, local farmers need to grow, harvest and store a large quantity of feed for their cattle and other livestock. High-quality feed is essential for the health of the animals and success of any farm operation. Because farming and crop production in particular is so dependent on the weather, this year has been a roller coaster ride for most New York farmers.

The wet weather of this spring, the summer heat and lack of moisture, and then the deluge of Tropical Storm Irene, have all combined to cause farmers a certain measure of uncertainty and delay. Crops have been flooded, dried up to the point of wilting and then knocked down by heavy winds. All these problems have added time and additional expense to the harvesting of the corn silage and grain this year. On top of the delays, lower crop yields have been reported as well.

While every farmer needs to store feed for the winter, there are a few who try to keep the feeding of stored feeds to minimum. Large dairy farms usually find it more efficient to house and feed the cows year round, but some smaller dairy farms and most beef producers endeavor to maximize their efficiencies by utilizing the harvesting capability of the animals themselves.

Traditionally, cows were let out every day onto pasture, but often the pasture did not supply enough forage to sustain adequate production without supplemental feeding. Pastures often became overgrazed; lack of grass made them dust bowls in the summer and muddy quagmires in the spring and fall. Managing pastures as a crop-producing field is bringing more farms back to grass.

As we enter the harvest season, it might seem to be an odd time to talk about grazing, but for those farmers who manage pasture properly, the grazing season has another four to six weeks remaining. Rotational grazing has improved the way in which pastures can be harvested and livestock grown more efficiently. Just like a lawn is mowed and grows back to be mowed again, rotational grazing allows livestock access to only a small portion of pasture for one or several days at a time.

Once the pasture is grazed down to the recommended height for the type of forage present, the livestock are moved to a new portion of pasture, allowing the previously grazed portion to recover. When this practice is utilized, the total volume of high-quality forage can be greatly increased over the grazing season.

The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service has a program that supports the responsible management of pasture lands. If you are a farmer looking for assistance in developing a grazing plan, the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) was founded to provide high-quality technical assistance on privately owned grazing lands on a voluntary basis and to increase the awareness of the importance of grazing land resources.

At an upcoming meeting in Willsboro, Dave Roberts, the NRCS state grazing specialist, will be the featured speaker. Roberts will discuss the best grass/legume species for reseeding or establishing a new pasture, paddock location and size, watering options as well as general concepts for developing and monitoring a grazing operation. NRCS conservation funding opportunities and grazing plan assistance will also be addressed.

The grazing workshop and pasture walk is being hosted by the Ben Wever Farm in Willsboro on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 1 p.m. A pasture and grass-based, diversified local farm, owned by Shaun and Linda Gillilland, raises Angus and Scottish Highland beef, Katahdin sheep, heritage breed hogs and a variety of poultry on 100 acres of Adirondack pastures.

Attendees to the workshop will tour the farm and pastures and enjoy a meal of local foods sponsored by the Adirondack North Country Association. For more information, directions and registration, contact either the Essex County SWCD office 962-8225/email or Cooperative Extension Clinton County at 561-7450 email

Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450.