June 14, 2021 at 3:52 p.m.

Pasture walk season is underway

Kickapoo Grazing Initiative kicks off series at Bairds’ farm
This herd of Jersey cows is rotationally grazed on Christopher Baird’s dairy farm in Crawford County.  PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
This herd of Jersey cows is rotationally grazed on Christopher Baird’s dairy farm in Crawford County. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN

By Danielle Nauman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    FERRYVILLE, Wis. – Farmers interested in rotational grazing gathered May 25 for a Kickapoo Grazing Initiative pasture walk held at the dairy farm of Christopher Baird in Crawford County.
    Baird milks 55 Jerseys near Ferryville, and the herd is rotationally grazed from spring until late fall. Baird discussed how he handles rotation length and benefits of giving up late-season grazing in favor of a more aggressive late-summer grazing rotation to potentially increase milk production.  
    Vance Haugen, a former University of Wisconsin-Extension agent and volunteer with KGI, moderated the grazing discussion among the participants.
    The question of the appropriate length of time allowed for each rotation is a question many graziers, including Baird, take into consideration. According to Haugen, there is no fixed number for the length of a rotation but instead a variable that relies on the condition of the grasses and how fast they are growing.
    “From April until June 21, the grasses are growing because of increasing daylight,” Haugen said. “Once you get past that longest day of the year, then it depends on moisture because your daylight is always decreasing from then on.”
    Haugen said the species of grasses affects the length of rotation as well.
    “If you have a pure ryegrass stand, you have a way different length of rest time needed than you would have on something like meadow fescue or orchard grass,” Haugen said.
    Drew Rogers, a dairy farmer from Soldiers Grove, said he has had success by setting up his paddocks in a temporary fashion, allowing him to vary the length of rotation.
    “Not having so many permanent paddocks has helped me,” Rogers said. “I use a lot of temporary fencing so I can adjust the size of the paddocks a lot, depending on the weather and how the grasses are growing.”
    Longtime grazier Don Boland, of Seneca, shared his rule of thumb for an average, starting with about 28 days, adding or subtracting about 10 days depending on weather and grass variations.
    “Another thing to keep in mind is that in a drought year, there may be less volume of forage available, but the quality of what is there is often greater,” Haugen said, referencing his experience grazing during the drought year of 1988.
    Haugen said grazing is never a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and the nutritional requirements and needs of the animals are always changing, from herd to herd, species to species and can be dependent on the stage of production of those animals, while the physiology of the plants are essentially unchanged throughout the season.
    Fertilizing pastures is something that should not be overlooked, according to Haugen. He said it is paramount to understand the capacity of the particular type of soil and understand that sometimes the desired changes might not be achievable.
    Boland shared the importance of soil testing prior to the application of fertilizer, so that money is not wasted applying unnecessary nutrients while taking the chance of missing what is truly needed for improved soil fertility.
    “Get a soil test and then get a soils map for your farm,” Haugen said, echoing Boland’s thoughts. “We have been grazing on our farm since 1993, and we have been fertilizing and doing all sorts of things. I can show you some paddocks that will knock your socks off, but I can also show you paddocks that still, even after all these years, are just absolutely poor. I have done many things that are right, and I am getting to the point where I am convinced it is due to the underlying soil conditions.”
    Baird said he has used observations and taken soil samples of smaller areas than the standard composite sample of 5 acres.
    “I have looked at how the grass grows differently in different areas and have done a lot of much smaller sampling because of what I have noticed,” Baird said. “Those areas were areas that did not seem to be responding to what I had done for other areas of the farm.”
    Haugen cautioned the graziers present to ensure they tested their soil through an accredited lab so the tests would be applicable for any government programs they might wish to sign up for in the future.


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