Category Archives: biomass

Why Rotational Grazing?

Since this is a question that has been asked several times over the past weeks, we decided now would be a good time to discuss what actually drove our decisions.

A few years ago, we allowed a local large-scale dairy farmer to utilize the 80-ish acres of tillable ground for producing crops for his farm. What we didn’t realize at the time was how he intended to use the ground. After tilling the soils around  half of the farm this first year, we started noticing some issues with soil retention. We held conversations with him to communicate our concerns about the erosion and run off issues. Unfortunately, our concerns fell on deaf ears or he just didn’t care.

He continued to till the ground from lowest to highest points, providing “alley” lanes for the water to just run toward our pond. Water wasn’t the only concern, it was also the over abundance of manure waste from his farm that he began applying as well. Every field slops toward the pond.  Concerned over contamination of our pond, we started really paying attention to what was going on. Even to the extent of documenting through photographs what was happening. Our Department of Environmental Conservation started doing water samples too. Low and behold, the phosphorus levels started to increase in the pond water. Not to the point of dangerous…but close.

Look at the top, you will see bare ground and corn stubble
A closer look at the “silt” or soil erosion
All the water funnels to a pond…can you see the “silt” along the ice?

There are ways this could have been prevented all together!

With just the simple motion of NOT plowing the field straight up and down the slope, much of this erosion would have stayed in the field instead of heading directly into the ponds. Cover crops that establish root systems would have worked too. Unfortunately, neither happened and now, we as the land owners need to repair the damages.

What started out as major concerns over erosion and run off, we stumbled across some information that has undoubtedly changed the course of our entire farm. The recommendation to start rotational grazing for our small herd of cattle has altered our whole perspective on farming. In April of 2012, we started rotational grazing on the lone 4-1/2 acre piece of the farm that wasn’t plowed up and bare dirt. We spent around $800 for step in post, braided wire and an energizer. It took us a few hours to put in the posts and another couple of hours to string all the wire.

We started grazing April 1st, 2012. We started noticing after the first month that the grass was getting greener in spots from the cow manure patties. We started noticing less and less water running across the field too due to the small pieces of matter laying between the plants. We noticed that our grass was still growing in July when every one else’s in our area had dried up and turned brown. Benefit after benefit started to show.

We planted the highest elevation piece into grasses for hay and future grazing too. 30 acres were planting with grass and legumes. After the first three weeks, we noticed less and less run off from that field too! Another 14 acres was reseeded and we started noticing spots of no growth. That got us to wondering why some spots were growing great and others barely at all. After walking through the field, the explanation was simple! All of the topsoil was GONE! Literally, it had all flowed off of spots and deposited in others. All that was left was the shale rock base. We knew right there that something had to change dramatically!

After talking with our Natural Resources Office and our local county Soil and Water representative, we all came to the same agreement. Based on the success of our rotational grazing trial and the erosion issues, we would all work together and apply for some grant funding to put the entire farm into Managed Grazing. March brought us the approval and the contracts for two separate programs! We are happily reporting that the full 90 acres of acre we deem as “farm” will soon be pastured and used exclusively for rotational grazing and hay production ONLY. There will be no more tillage, other than by cattle hooves.

Which do you think would be better if it was your property?

Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of '12
Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of ’12
Water draining out of the pasture.
Water draining out of the pasture.

 

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Lots of Activity

I thought life was crazy before! I have changed my mind. Currently, we have added in the woes of fence construction, new seeding, grazing management, frost seeding, and relocating temporary fences.

Let’s start with the temporary fence. A great deal of our fence areas are set in with step in posts and braided wire. I hasn’t been a problem until now. The issues that have come up now are long-haired animals (see photo below) just walking through the fence. Hair seems to NOT conduct the electricity within the energized wire. Needless to say, about two to six times a day…I am putting cattle back inside the fence or getting a phone call while I run errands because the cows are out.

Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.
Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.

It really doesn’t make much sense. As you can see, the grass is very low to the ground in that area. Inside the area fenced in, some of the grass under the laid over hay is several inches long. In this case, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence!

This shows the grasses inside the fence
This shows the grasses inside the fence

Now let’s talk about this photo a little more. This is part of our pre-spring grazing management. We have an area fenced in that needed some “work”. The area gets very steep and doesn’t allow for any type of tractor work. So we are using the cattle to do the work for us. As you can see in the photo, the old forage growth within the paddock has provided a sort of blanket for the new grasses underneath to sprout and grow quicker than the worked up field areas that we grazed last fall.

This is just part of the area that we are "working" with the cattle
This is just part of the area that we are “working” with the cattle

The standing stalks of weeds will get eaten, trampled and the ground develops as the cattle hooves dig into the ground. We have already seen improvements…in 2 days! Take a look!

This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.
This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.

I will be posting follow-up photos with before, during and after shots. We are trying this as part of an experiment for land reclaiming. They are eating the briars and the weeds! Proof in these next two photos.

Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Cow clipped briars!
Cow clipped briars!
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next stage for us will be fencing in the 90 acres we will be using for rotational grazing this year and for many years to come. It’s a big job with over 14,500 linear feet of fencing, posts, wires, etc to have put up! Once it’s all completed we will have enough area to grazing 45 animals. To someone like me with an obsession with cattle…it means I can buy more cattle! (Reminder: I like to buy cattle like most women like to buy shoes!)

We also have 30 acres to get seeded for another grazing area too. Rich has been researching, reading and learning what types of grasses and legumes will be best suited for both the soil and the cattle. He thinks he has finally figured out which blend (a custom mix with lots of plant diversity) he wants to go with. In the meantime, we will be frost seeding clover on last years pastures to start building nitrogen in the ground. Did you know that clovers are nature’s way of providing nitrogen? I didn’t…but it’s very cool! No more synthetic fertilizer for nitrogen!!!

Saturday, we will be headed to a grazing seminar that will help us learn how to become more adapt at managing our grazing plan. I am super excited to go and I will make sure I take LOTS of pictures!

For now…it’s back to chasing cattle, taking more photos and reading more books! Thanks for stopping in to read about my adventures and sharing our little piece of Heaven!

 

 

Farm Visit and Meeting

I am excited to say that I am going to get time to go spend on another Jersey Farm today! Lawton’s, who are some of my favorite people around, have a 75 milking cow herd of the most beautiful jerseys!

I have to admit, I feel almost priveledged to be able to go sit down with them for a couple of hours and talk with them about the four generations that have worked the farm. They are lacking ONE year from being in operation 75 YEARS! And I really hope I live to see the day when the celebrate 100!

First thing this morning though, I have to go sit through a bioenergy training class that I am an advisor and instructor for….blah! But, someone needs to do this to educate our local economic development agencies just how important agriculture is to the renewable energy sector and local economic development. Too many times, these agencies won’t talk anything agriculture. I am hoping that these monthly classes (that have been going on for almost a year) have changed the mind sets of the staff. I don’t get paid to do any of this either. It’s been my commitment to the agriculture sector and hopefully more farm security in the upcoming future. I do it for my neighbors, my friends and yes, even a few of my extended family members.

Do I feel I am an industry leader? In some ways, yes I do. In others, no. I am just trying to do my part to educate and promote agriculture. Too many people don’t understand the full diversity of how important our farm land is. It isn’t only about food production anymore. It’s about food, fiber, and energy. It’s not all about the little guys and girls like me, it’s about doing what is best for the environment. It’s about using left over waste products and land that isn’t valued for the food system. There are so many different aspects that most people just don’t grasp. Maybe the whole concept is just too big…another reason why this program is taking a year already and I am sure at least another to begin actual projects.

It takes time to get people to open their minds and sometimes their eyes to see the world around them. We don’t live in a concrete jungle, not all of us anyway. We live in wide open spaces where we watch the birds come in to nest. We watch wildflowers bloom and cover fields in a sea of purples, blues, yellows and whites. We watch as deer, turkey and geese walk across fields looking for food to forage. We sit along creek banks and ponds watching the fish swim and jump. It is just a different way of life that needs preservation. It’s that way of life that keeps me passionate about everything I do.

So for now…I am off to the concrete jungle to talk about nature’s finest moments and how agriculture works together with nature to provide us the stuff we need….would rather be watching that new calf out running in the pasture along side his mother but, sometimes we all have to make sacrifices for the greater good!

Peace to all and God bless you!

Damn Weather

At some point, maybe…well, hopefully sometime before July…the weather will straighten out and we can get our 30 acres of forage grasses planted. Every time it seems like the ground is just getting dry enough to plant, it rains again and then we have to wait another 3-4 days. UGGGG

It is maddening. Especially considering we have so many other things going on right now too. Meetings and more meetings about our regional energy sustainability are slowly driving me insane. I have sat through so many of these now that I have lost count. That doesn’t include the multiple coordination phone calls and emails in between. Maybe someday this will all get easier as more people within the area become informed and knowledgeable about bioenergy. For some reason though, it seems like you have to constantly repeat the same information 1,000 times before anyone seems to grasp the basic concept of energy and energy demands.

Thank goodness for the two “working” highlights in my life! Y’all have no idea how relaxing it is to work with stubborn cows with attitude! These Jersey cattle kids are all head strong that’s for sure. Belle, the worst of the bunch, has to be nosy and “chat it up” with each and every animal here on the farm, including those pesky chickens! She has befriended one of the Dexters so much now that they are inseparable. They are always together now.

The calves are both doing extremely well and growing fast. Tommy, our newest addition, certainly has a ton of spunk. It is comical to watch him run round and round the pasture, which takes him about 10 times around before he decides to slow down. Him and Chuck are both buddy pals. We attempted to separate them at night but all Tommy did was bawl and bawl some more so now they are housed together at night. It’s working well and makes me feel good knowing that they are enjoying each others company that much. Just points out to me that I think all calves need to be raised in pairs!

We are still awaiting the arrival of Dexter calves…they are bagging up beautifully and are show lots of signs of being uncomfortable. The calves are large enough now within the womb that you can see their Mother’s bellies roll around when they start moving. I love sitting out in the pasture watching those moments! Makes me miss being pregnant but not enough to have another child. It’s just one of those amazing moments I feel blessed enough to share!

Our heifers are getting close to breeding time and big decisions will need to be made soon on just what semen we will be using. I don’t think I have put this much thought into a decision in a very long time. I have talked with my cousin, who just happens to be a semen distributor, about what my best options would be. Needless to say, for someone who is as picky as I am about how I want my Jerseys to turn out…it just made matters worse! Some how I will choose and in the meantime, I am getting very proficient in reading sire reports! Haha

Speaking of sires and genelogy, I had a great time at the New York Spring Jersey Sale this weekend. Lots of beautiful Jerseys that I really wish I could have brought home with me…but, they were selling for more than I am comfortable paying right now! 😦 Isn’t that sad? I just wanted to bring home one or two but all of the ones I had picked out when for much higher than my budget will allow. Made some really good contacts for the summer months though. Meet folks from Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even Maine. I loved it! People who actually understand the language I talk!

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Jersey girls after their trip through the sale ring!

So, back to this weather.. All of this rain has us behind on mowing the lawn but, the pasture is growing well. I am thinking I need to get some fencing around my yard and use it for calves!!! Could you imagine the UPS or FedEx guys pulling in and having to go through electric fence to deliver? The one who drives for FedEx wouldn’t be the issue…he grew up around here and is actually from the same small town I am. I still think it would be great though…maybe it would keep some of the goofy people away!!!

Nice thought but I doubt it would work. Speaking of goofy people…I need to get my butt in gear! Lots to do today and hopefully some great events that will mean more to me than anything in the world!!!! Only time will tell!

Farm Shows

Well, on Friday, Mr. Farmer and I attended the NY Farm Show in Syracuse, NY. I spent my morning listening through a seminar on gas leasing and the information research gathered through three individuals across the state.

Once I was done taking my notes (which will be used for next weeks edition of a Lancaster Farming article) I got to spend some time walking around and chatting with some different people.

First stop…….the youth food booth for a cup of hot coffee! Then it was on to look at the new Jaylor Mixers! We have been thinking about getting one of these to use as our herd expands. It was nice to actually stand on one, see the size of it in person and ask some questions. We are looking at the self propelled unit, which should provide a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) in enough quantity to feed all of our upcoming herd. It is the only mini-mixer with a steel tub, not a poly tub.

The next stop was to start looking at different mixtures for seedings for our new pasture mixes. We found three that are shelf-ready and two that would have to be custom mixed. We are going to be looking through these mixes now with the nutrienist to make sure that which ever one we use for our intensive grazing during the summer months will have the proper balance for our herd of Jersey cows.

Then it was on to look at some of the corn seeds that are coming online and have been referred to us by one of our contacts at Cornell. . . I will post more on this as time comes.

I had a great conversation with Chris Fesko about what she is doing and she informed me that she has planned her first open house of the year again this year for Mother’s Day weekend. I encourage you to take time reading about what she is doing and maybe even booking some time to go spend a day on her farm.

Then it was off to talk with the great folks who farm and sell their milk through Agrimark. Agri-Mark farmers take pride in their Cabot and McCadam products and have the toughest milk quality standards in the market. Now that sounds like a group I can get involved with. Quality over quantity! Sounds good to me!

Then it was off to talk fencing….phew boy are there a ton of options out there! Time for me to put a bunch of thought into what we are going to do. Five strand high tensile is looking better everyday with some extremely high voltage around the perimeter fencing……….More on this coming soon!

We also got to see my Canadian friend Jasmin from Energrow Inc. too! She is so much fun to talk to and I love seeing her. Her and I could have a ton of fun together if we lived closer together. But all kidding aside…you all really need to go take a look at their machinery that turns soybeans and other oil based crops into oil and meal. This is a must have piece of machinery as we move forward with our expansions….AND I can’t wait to get it!

There was plenty more to see and do…but I think the funniest and most serious thing I saw was the Farm Show poll on how the attendees would vote for the current canidates for president.

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Bioenergy and Agriculture

As many of you already know, I have been working for the past two and a half years on developing more bioenergy usage within my region. Not for many of the reasons that most people think either.

I work in this industry, pushing for the additional option to farmers and landowners. To some folks, there is no understanding of what bioenergy is exactly. You may have the basic concept that it comes from biological materials and in that aspect, you are correct. Bioenergy can be defined as an alternative energy produce from living materials.

You can break bioenergy into three basic concepts. The following PDF document will help you see the potential uses of the three separate categories.
Bioenergy through Agriculture

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be compiling a flow chart for the different industries that can potentially be impacted and see economic variations through a bioenergy energy sector. The first one that I will be focusing on is Biogas. Some of you are already familiar with biogas, since it is something that we all hear about (both good and bad) within Ag.

Biogas is nothing more than harnessed Methane. But, some of you still have some questions about how methane can be used to produce energy. I will give you just an overview of those answers when I compile them into an additional tag along slideshow.

I think it is important for all farms, large and small, to consider the benefit potentials of Methane in the energy cycle. This is one of the reason why I will openly share the compiled documents and answer any questions that may arise to the best of my ability.

I hope that you find these pages informative and helpful. If not, please comment on how we can improve these pages so that the “general public” will get a better understanding of how agriculture is for the future of energy within the US.