Boland’s herd rotates among 110 acres of rotational grazing paddocks throughout the year. Boland stockpiles pasture forage in an effort to increase the length of his grazing season.
Boland’s herd rotates among 110 acres of rotational grazing paddocks throughout the year. Boland stockpiles pasture forage in an effort to increase the length of his grazing season. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    GAYS MILLS, Wis. – Grazing blends with the topography of Don Boland’s Terrace Acres Farm in the rolling western hills of Crawford County near Gays Mills, Wis. And, grazing has served his family well for three generations.
    “There’s never been a silo on this farm,” Boland said. “My dad grazed, and his dad grazed, too. We’re more intensive than we used to be.”
    Boland milks 180 cows – Holsteins, Jerseys, Ayrshires and Milking Shorthorns with a few Normandes. He has begun introducing Holstein Friesian, Jersey and Ayrshire genetics from New Zealand into his herd, finding those animals work well in a grazing model. While Boland practices rotational grazing, his herd is not grass fed and is supplemented with corn silage and some type of purchased commodity.
    “It seems the feed efficiency of the New Zealand genetics is better, because of how they’ve selected them,” Boland said. “They may give less milk, but are more efficient at maintaining fat and protein production.”
    The farm consists of nearly 300 tillable acres, with 110 acres of permanent paddocks and pasture for grazing. He makes hay to supplement his herd during the winter months, but relies on stockpiling pasture to extend his grazing season as long as possible, providing him with low input costs for feed.
    Stockpiling pasture refers to the practice of growing the grasses until a killing frost; instead of cutting it and making dry hay. The cattle essentially harvest their own forages as long as the weather allows them to graze.
    “You can’t stockpile land you don’t have,” Boland said. “You have to have hay ground that you harvest the last crops as grazed pasture instead of hay. If you need that hay for the winter and have to harvest, it’s hard to stockpile.”
    Boland rotates his pastures daily, with each paddock having about a 35-day rest period before the cows are allowed to graze the area again.
    “Around the first of September, if a pasture starts to slow down, we’ll supplement with hay at nights,” Boland said. “We try to stretch it as long as we can. We aim for Thanksgiving. If we start getting snow, we quit feeding hay and start the stockpiling to go through that pasture while the weather is good.”
    Stockpiling also allows Boland to give the cows a clean place to lay when the weather starts turning. He said stockpiling gives him more flexibility with his heifers.
    In working with his intensive rotational grazing program, Boland has begun to manage his herd seasonally as well to be in sync with the availability of pasture forage. The cows live outside at all times and are only in the barn for milking. They are fed undercover at a bunk. He employs windbreaks during the winter while the cows are dry.
    “Being seasonal gives us some cost advantages that keep us competitive,” Boland said. “It’s hard to take one production practice that we do and translate it onto another farm. A lot of them are interconnected with us, and it’s almost a whole system.”
    Boland breeds his herd to calve beginning in mid-March, and by the first of April, he is typically milking about 100 head. He culls open cows throughout the fall and early winter based on production, and the entire herd is dried off on the same day in late January.
    The herd averages about 12,500 pounds per cow, per year, factoring in the early culled cows. The bulk tank test climbs in the fall and is over five percent fat and four percent protein at this time. By the time he dries the herd off, the fat test is typically over six percent and the protein over 4.5 percent. The herd is tested three times a year, allowing Boland to rank his cows for production.
    Around Sept. 1, Boland decreases his milkings from twice a day to milking three times every two days, typically at 16-hour intervals.
    Boland said health issues are not typically a problem in his herd, which he believes is because of his aggressive culling program.
    “We move about 30 percent of the herd out each year,” Boland said. “We’ve selected long enough that they pretty much fit our system, and we’ve weeded the problems out. Typically, cows with health problems don’t breed back. They have to calve every year to stay here.”
    The farm’s replacement animals are raised on the farm, and Boland keeps about 65 heifer calves each year to fill his replacement needs.
    Because of his positive experience with rotational grazing, Boland has become involved in the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program and recently graduated his second apprentice. For two years, the apprentices work alongside Boland on the farm, learning the intricacies of pasture and herd management in the grazing system.
    “It’s hard enough to get started in dairying and grazing, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you are doomed,” Boland said of why he participates in the program.
    Boland continues to weigh his management options for the future and has not ruled out the idea of going to an all-grass-fed system in the future.
    “You have to evaluate ideas and ensure they will fit in your business model,” Boland said. “It’s all about making sure the changes will suit your operation and be a benefit.”