September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Woodland grazing featured at Boland pasture walk

Value of farm nutrient management plan highlighted
Don Boland
Don Boland

By By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

GAYS MILLS, Wis. - Farmers looking to lower their property taxes sometimes let their cattle graze the woods. Don Boland, Gays Mills, Wis., does that, and the practice came up at a pasture walk Oct. 15 at his farm.
"When you have cattle in the woods, it'll take you from the highest recreational tax rate down to the lowest agricultural rate. It's no longer classified as recreational land, but ag land," Boland said.
He added, "The stocking rate is important. You can scrape everything right out of the woods if you overdo it."
Boland has been using managed grazing on his Terraced Acres farm since 1982. It's a practice his father, Mike, started.
The Bolands milk 155 cows. With the youngstock figured in, there are 270 head.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student in agroecology, Keef Keeley, handed out copies of a paper he has written. It's called, "Woods Pastures in Southwest Wisconsin: A Brief Guide for Farmers." Keeley asked the graziers to take a look at the guide and let him know what they think.
Keeley noted that being in the woods can benefit cattle. They get some shelter from rain and wind, along with some forage. On the other hand, he reminded, wooded hillsides like those that are common in parts of western and southwest Wisconsin are fragile. His guide, he said, discusses some of the signs that a woods might be overgrazed, along with things to consider when grazing woods.
Grazing woodland can be a controversial topic, acknowledged Crawford County Extension Agricultural Agent Vance Haugen. A grazier himself, in Minnesota, Haugen said, "Some foresters start to foam at the mouth when you start talking about having cattle in the woods."
And yet there is a branch of scientific forestry called silvopasture. One definition of the practice is that it combines forestry and grazing in a mutually beneficial way. Among its advantages can be better-protected soil and more income over the long haul, because of the production of both trees and livestock. Silvopasturing is said to be the most prominent agroforestry practice in the U.S., especially in the Southeast.
Boland said his cattle are allowed to graze a woods that's on rented ground. Since it's rented, and the landowner likes to hunt, Boland has figured out a way to manage for both dairy cattle and deer.
He said deer will not frequent that woods if he lets the cattle graze it too tightly. So Boland gives the woods three grazings a year, plus a long rest period.
Before Sept. 1, he moves the cattle out of the woods. That gives the plants time to put out green regrowth. That woods also has apple trees in it, and when the fruit hits the ground, the deer come in there like crazy, Boland said.
Boland keeps trees and brush at bay in the meadow area next to the woods by using a bat-wing mower.
"The woods stays pretty healthy and they really don't eat the brush down," Boland said. "You can have deer and cattle in the same place. But you have to control the access by cattle."
Boland went on to talk about his pasture reclamation work. The three acres supported brush - mainly box elders.
As the farm's cow numbers grew, the dairyman reclaimed that ground. He can now drive a tractor over it and use the pasture as place to lock up heifers at breeding time.
The dairyman cut down one tree a day and left it so the heifers could eat the green leaves. On the next day, he bucked the tree into firewood.
Another step was to use a hand-operated spreader to scatter the seeds of grasses and legumes around the tree he would be felling. From there, the cattle stomped the seed in, Boland said.
He repeated the process each day, until the box elders were gone. Brush from the clearing was pushed into a pile, then burned. "The result, Boland said, "is a nice pasture."
Boland did more to that pasture. When he was in high school, some three decades ago, he planted black walnuts. The walnut trees now stand some 30 or more feet tall and are interspersed in a thick sward that gleamed a bright green in mid-October.
Haugen, the Extension agent, said, "Some of us aren't all focused on trees. Some of us say trees and cattle can work."
And, he added, "The grass savannas most of this country used to be before European settlement wasn't a bad ecosystem. It was pretty good. We didn't have a lot of flooding, etc. It's something we can emulate."
Haugen also observed how a woods can change if grazing ceases. On his second farm farther north in Minnesota, cattle have been kept out of the woods for a few years. As a result tree species are returning, like burr oak. Said Haugen, "That's kind of exciting."

Nutrient management
Boland also talked about the nutrient management plan his farm needed to have for him to get tax credits under the Farmland Preservation Program. Boland admitted that he was somewhat reluctant to come up with a plan, mainly because he did not want to work with a computer to figure out the many details.
Nevertheless, he enrolled in a class at Southwest Tech, Fennimore, Wis., and was able to complete a plan. As it turned out, Boland said, the tax credits he received covered the $160 cost of the class and the soil testing he had to have done. In the end, he made more money than he spent. "It wasn't a bad deal," Boland said.
A soil test was made on each four acres of pasture. In addition, the farm's yearly manure production was factored in and was given a value.
Haugen noted that besides highlighting the value of manure, the soil tests reveal fields that can use the nutrients in the manure, along with those whose fertility is up to snuff or too high.
For Boland, the tests revealed that phosphorus is high in some fields, but low on rented land. It's highest, he said, near the buildings and on flatter ground. Phosphorus levels are low on land that's steeper or farther from the buildings.
As for the value of his farm's yearly manure production, Boland offered this rule of thumb: "Ten percent of what you're selling in milk is what the manure is worth." He added that the nutrient management plan opened his eyes to what the farm's manure is worth."
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