PINE KNOB - Jake and Marcie Connelly were the host farm for a Kickapoo Grazing Initiative Pasture Walk on Saturday, June 5. The two bought their 80-acre certified organic farm on Pine Knob Road in Utica Township in 2019, and have been working since to adapt it to rotational grazing of beef cattle.
The Connellys approached NRCS in the fall of 2018 seeking assistance in improving pasture suffering from low production and invasive brush. NRCS put them in touch with Dennis Rooney, a grazing specialist, to assess their pasture and develop a grazing plan.
Last Saturday, five producers broke away from making hay and other seasonal activities to attend the pasture walk on Connelly’s farm. Among them were Dennis Weber of Rising Sun. Weber raises feeder cattle for beef on pasture. Christopher Baird of Rising Sun pastures a herd of 57 Jerseys, and Amy Fenn pastures some of Baird’s heifers on her land. Dennis Rooney and Vance Haugen are longtime dairy graziers.
Abbey Augarten, who attended, is a graduate student at UW-Madison, and formerly worked with UW-Discovery Farms. While at Discovery Farms, Augarten worked on the Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) Project, which is intended to offer farmers and consultants the tools necessary to form a roadmap that supports how and why nitrogen is supplied.
Jake Connelly explained to the group that when he began farming his land, the pastures were neglected. For this reason, a lot of his work since has been on upgrading the forage and improving the soil health.
“I have done some inter-seeding on about 30 acres, and have also developed some woodland pastures,” Connelly explained. “My goal is to make most of my land productive.”
Haugen asked Connelly what his future endeavors would be?
“I don’t want to overgraze my land, and this is the first year that I have started to take notes,” Connelly responded. “I need to determine what size herd my land can support, and ideally, I’d like to not be feeding hay until about Christmas.”
Currently, Connelly has about 35 acres of pasture, some of which is converted cropland, and grazes a herd of 15 Hereford cow/calf pairs. He said he had used a grant from the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to install fencing for his paddocks, a watering system, and gravel walkways.
The group discussed remote watering systems, and whether it was worth the expense to install remote electricity.
“I have five remote watering systems on my land – two with electricity and three without,” Haugen said. “Personally, I find it is easy enough to thaw them out if they are frozen with a five gallon bucket of water, and don’t recommend installing electric because it is expensive.”
Haugen said that he finds it is nice to have a hydrant nearby, however. This, he says, helps him when he needs to thaw out a watering system and is also nice if he wants a drink.
Haugen asked Connelly what seasonal challenges he had been experiencing.
“Abbey Augarten has been helping me to get better growth in my pastures,” Connelly responded. “I noticed that in my second year I was able to graze longer.”
Beef grazier Dennis Weber commented that extending the season is crucial for him to get maximum growth. For this reason, he always tries to leave stands of forage that will be available to his herd in October, November and December. He says it is nice to also have some hay available for use in November and December, and then also in early April when not much is growing yet.
Haugen asked Dennis Rooney what strategies he uses to extend the season.
“Well, the first thing would be to control the weather,” Rooney joked. “I find that if I allow only light grazing, and get the seed heads off, then I have a really lush pasture in August.”
To clip or not to clip
The group then spent time discussing the subject of clipping for pastures that are beginning to go to seed.
“Well, I’m getting away from clipping,” Rooney said. “With the price of seed these days, I’d rather just let my pastures re-seed themselves.”
Haugen said that he could understand clipping for dairy, but not for beef production.
“I see clipping as more than just a preference,” Christopher Baird said. “I use clipping as a way to slow down the orchard grass.”
Haugen pointed out that when the stand gets a little taller, it shades the soil and keeps things a little cooler. He said that this can be a very good thing in hot, dry conditions. He said his rule of thumb is that if he’s going to clip, he’s going to do it early.
Dennis Weber asked how long it took for the plants to develop a mature seed. Rooney responded that when you move through the stand and can see the seed heads falling off, then you know they are mature.
“Of course, all forage varieties mature at a different pace,” Haugen pointed out.
“I’ve noticed that less desirable varieties tend to mature faster, so I would mow sooner in order to suppress those,” Fenn said.
“As far as managing thistles, I’ve gotten away from spraying, and instead just clip them right before they bloom,” Rooney added.
“If I do clip, I set my machine on as high a setting as possible,” Baird said. “I can set my disc bine at eight or nine inches, but I’d prefer 12 inches.”
“Sometimes we tend to overthink things, I’ve found,” Rooney said. “I’ve found that sometimes we just need to let nature take its path.”
Taking hay off
The group also discussed whether and when to take hay off the pasture in a grazing system.
Haugen said that haying off pasture is a very legitimate management tool in a grazing system if you can’t get the cattle on it. He also said that he has found it best when the pasture growth slows down in July and August, to slow his rotation down, feed a little hay, and create stockpiles for winter.“Personally, I recommend taking some first crop hay,” Rooney said.