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VT Pasture Network

Pasture Management: Extending the Grazing Season

Posted: April 15th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

By: Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator


Cows grazing on permanent pastures, following a tumble-wheel fence

UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Farming requires mental and physical involvement in the complex management of the soil, plants, animals, people, equipment, weather and markets. While this complexity is constantly changing, problems can sometimes become opportunities. Then, anything livestock producers can do to keep animals rotationally grazing for as long as possible, will return lower costs and higher benefits in general. Exceptions should be made during extreme cold and wind, of course.

A common challenge when trying to extend the grazing season is that, in northeastern United States, grazing does not last the entire year, but it can be extended if carefully planned.

Generally, it is safe to assume that we can count on a grazing season that goes from April until September (though grazing through October or early November may be possible, depending upon a grazing plan (see Troy Bishop’s grazing charts and planning resources), well-managed pastures, and the use of annual forage supplementation before feeding hay bales. ‘Well-managed’ means, rationally rotating high stock density through small paddock areas, for periods not exceeding 2 or 3 days, leaving these resting behind with about 4 inches of trampled forage residue.

Pasture is dynamic. While extending the grazing season and increasing productivity and net profits are common challenges, a recommended approach (other than encouraging as many forage-adapted species as possible), is to manage the sward dynamically and with flexibility because, pasture farming is dynamic. This flexible management must also be observed with the animals.

Beidler072309 036

Cows grazing on Japanese Millet (warm season grass) at Beidler’s Farm.

For example, strategically promoting long rest periods in some areas of the farm at times, may encourage natural seeding, root development, soil health and habitat for beneficial fauna. Or, heavily grazing down other areas of the farm may advantageously help re-balance forage species. Stockpiled forage for later winter grazing in fallowed areas or winter “bale grazing” must also be used with flexibility.

It is important to match forage quality and intake to animal needs because, certain animals that require higher nutritional demands must graze the best relative forage quality. For example, milking or breeding cows have different nutrient demands than dry animal or heifers thus, milking or breeding cows must receive the best pastures.

Moreover, a sustained production, will depend on full time dedication and constant access to reliable information. For this and other reasons, grazers must walk their pastures, observe their animals, take notesand if possible pictures.

Suggested Strategies for Extending the Grazing Season


Permanent pastures stockpiled in May (left), and recently grazed in early December (right).

  • April to September: Graze most of the pastures normally;
  • June: Between the first and second hay cut, reserve a few paddocks for seeding warm season annual species to be grazed late in the summer when is dry. This bulk production can last through the end of August (high yields may need fertilization), providing one or two cuts or grazings;
  • August: Defer a few paddocks for winter, stockpiling forages by fencing animals out;
  • September: 3 weeks before the killing frost, seed winter annuals; the area left by the warm season species could be an option to use. Winter annual forages can extend the season another 30 or 60 days.
  • Strip-graze the stockpiled forages deferred in August; when finished, feed the hay bales harvested until the next Spring.

Have you explored different ideas to extend your grazing season? If you want to share them, drop us a line at the UVM Pasture Program:

Jennifer Colby (jcolby@uvm.edu)

Juan Alvez (jalvez@uvm.edu) and,

Kimberly Hagen (kimberly.hagen@uvm.edu)


Winter feed


Conference Celebrates, Connects Northeast Livestock Farmers

Posted: March 14th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network


A low-stress livestock handling student practices what she's just learned.

A low-stress livestock handling student practices what she’s just learned.

Given the latest snow storm, January seems like just yesterday.  Sounds like a good time to share updates from the 18th Annual Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference.  Over 350 farmers, feeder dealers, technical assistance providers, and environmental managers attended the two-day event held at Lake Morey Resort.  Workshops and events included live animal demonstrations, rainfall simulation (in January!), group discussions about climate change, forage quality, soil health, business planning, and much more.

Highlights of the conference were described by many as the keynote speaker Ben Bartlett, the ability to interact with other grass-based and livestock farmers, and “getting new and applicable information”. One attendee said: “Great gathering of people committed to the improvement of the

Three goat farmers smiling together and enjoying Strafford Creamery ice cream.  From left, Calley Hastings, Laura Olsen and Karen Freudenberger.

Three goat farmers smiling together and enjoying Strafford Creamery ice cream. From left, Calley Hastings, Laura Olsen and Karen Freudenberger.

environment.” Another said: “I always look forward to going home with a few new ideas to improve our efficiency.”

For a full conference writeup, check out this piece by Troy Bishopp, for Country Folks Magazine.

People liked the message of keynote Ben Bartlett so much that we’ve gathered additional articles about him to share.

And finally, we had some fun and surveyed the audience with clickers in real time.  Want to learn a little more about Northeast grass farmers? Here you go.


Nature is a Force to be Cooperated With, Not Controlled (or: Farming Practices in Sync with Natural Systems Will Always Keep You in the Green)

Posted: January 28th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

By Kimberly Hagen
Grazing Specialist
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture

What’s in a crisis? Almost always there is a lesson to be learned. The trick is to pay attention, or make the observation about what is going on and make the necessary changes to move forward in a positive way. It could mean some slow slogging for a while to move out of the present situation, but it’s often the best, and sometimes the only, way out.

All too often when I am called to a farm, it is in a state of crisis. They might not realize it, but I can see

it. As a grazing specialist my eyes are trained on the status of the past, present and future of the livestock’s feed on that farm. So many times- by the time a farm has been recommended to me or a farmer has called me for a consultation, it’s because they’ve hit a hard place and not sure where to make the next move, except for one that has no immediate cost to it. Unfortunately there is a cost, it’s just not always so obvious.

Tired pasture

Looking for signs of life!

So what I am talking about here is pasture, of course. The most common practice, and this has been the case for more than a few generations, (in most parts of the world ) is to let your animals out of the barn onto THE pasture – the same one, day after day. Sometimes there are two, a night pasture and a day pasture, but still basically a continuously grazed piece of land.

So what happens? Well, the season starts out with promising lush growth, the animals graze and graze on that early spring/summer forage that bolts out of the starting gate racing to the sun. Milk production is high and other livestock pack on the pounds getting fat and glossy. But then the days get hotter and drier, and the forage slows way down. But still the animals graze and graze, and since the forage is not so plentiful, they scrounge, biting down on the same plants again and again, getting closer and closer to the ground. By early August, the pasture is nothing more than a holding pen and exercise yard, and completely void as a functioning viable part of the feed program.

Good pasture

Lots of life here! Healthy pasture; deep green color, dense forage, and a good 8” for grazing.

The greater the fertility in your soil, the longer you can hang on with this practice, but it eventually catches up. The plants turn into mini-versions of themselves and, lacking the energy or reserves to replenish, remain stunted in their growth. At this point the choices narrow quickly – any feed already harvested could be fed out, but that leaves nothing for the coming winter months. Purchased feed could be fed – but that has a price on it. Pasture could be rented at another farm – but that also has a price, including the inconvenience of transporting animals either by walking or by trucking. Not great choices by any stretch of the imagination. Animals can be culled, which will lower the feed costs, but might not be in the long term interests of the farm. An immediate fix will probably require some combination of all three options. But none of these options is a long term answer, and will become increasingly expensive as a management practice if repeated numerous times. The window where the pasture actually contributes substantially to the feed intake of the animal will decrease over time and depending on the circumstances, within a few years, may find that grazing is finished by the end of July or even June.

There is another choice – changing the grazing management – but it will not provide a quick fix, like the other options mentioned and here is the slow slog I was referring to earlier. As Allan Savory has so eloquently written – and spoken about as well – after his years of observing how it all works in the wild, observation is the key. This is not something you do once and are finished, but an ongoing deep conversation and connection with the animals and plants on your farm.

Good grazing management – as a colleague wrote a few years ago in a wonderful paper- is both art and science. It requires developing strong observation skills by walking through your pastures, observing how your animals graze, and how the plants are responding to being grazed. You really should get down on your hands and knees, push the plants aside and see how much bare ground there is between plants, how many insects there are, how much worm and beetle activity around the manure patties/pellets. How does it all work? Or for that matter, is it working? We have all heard from the master teachers – Savory, Ian Mitchell-Innes and many others – but there’s really no replacing the practice of observing what is going on with your animals, your forage, your pastures, and knowing about your soil and making note of how it all works together in your corner of the world. All of this requires a silo’s worth of patience and more, but the rewards are well worth the wait. And the funny thing is, you might find that all those jokes about how to lose a million dollars – “just keep farming”…..don’t really apply any more.

3/19/14 update: The paper referenced above, by Sarah Flack, is available at her web site: www.sarahflackconsulting.com, as well as many other articles and videos to help you achieve better grazing.



Ecosystem Services: Consider Wildlife Habitat for Higher Productivity

Posted: January 10th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

by Juan Alvez, Pasture Technical Coordinator Learn why you should consider leaving some space for pollinators and beneficial fauna!

Monarch butterfly on red clover flower (Photo by: Native Pollinators in Agriculture Project)

Farming is an amazingly fulfilling activity that can bind families and communities around food production and rural way of living. However, this idyllic activity demands great knowledge, dedication, and perseverance. In an effort to make the most out of their farmland, and following a model that overall praises productivity, farmers try to be as productive as possible. By doing so, they sometimes end up occupying most of their farmland.  And you’re right if you think that land-owning farmers are entitled to do so! But there’s a downside with real costs.  When all the natural areas of the farm are occupied, little habitat remains for wildlife and, increases in productivity from occupying these areas are sometimes not significant or not to be expected.

So can we just leave them as is?

Habitats for wildlife can be compared to living pumps because they can boost overall ecosystem’s productivity: allowing wildlife to thrive and sustain itself, and also enhancing agricultural production. Habitat is the place in the ecosystem where wildlife flourish. That wildlife can include everything from microbes to insects to birds and other vertebrates.

In farmlands, wildlife habitat can be different things, including soil structure, perennial pastures, contiguous forest or riparian areas. These are where wildlife can perform the functions of regulation and balance, and the services of pollination and water quality, and more. But they’re best able to support these different processes and functions when their structures are intact.   That matters to people because these functions serve as the pillars for the benefits (or services) we –humans—derive from nature.

To picture this, imagine a pyramid where the base is constituted by a healthy soil (ecosystem structure). Right above are the (ecosystem) processes that this structure permits such as organic matter decomposition. Above this layer lay ecosystem functions which directly depend on a healthy, resilient structure and the processes that support it. This habitat would be able to provide the important ecosystem function of nutrient cycling to help create healthier soils, clean water, and assist with solid waste issues.  The top of the pyramid then is constituted by soil fertility, and the healthy food grown with this soil. It is all linked together and it all critically depends on a sound ecosystem structure. Hence, if a healthy soil is tilled, turned and plowed several times, its structure is disturbed or assaulted, and its ability to house soil microorganisms that make possible fertility, the resulting chaos will translate into lower fertility, higher labor needs, opportunistic weeds and pathogens, and undesirable costs. If this process is repeated over the years, soil organisms disappear and soil can potentially turn into a desert.

A great example of the importance of the benefits of wildlife habitats can be depicted by the work of pollinators (mostly insects but also bats, among others) and beneficial fauna. Pollinators lend a big hand in plant reproduction and by visiting several plants they provide variability and resiliency.  It is by now well known that fruits, forages, crops and berries (and others) can sometimes only reproduce by the action of pollinators.

According to a study done by French and German scientists, the worldwide pollination value was worth $216 billion per year (9.5% of the total value of world agricultural production according to 2008 values) meaning that, that is the cost it would require to pollinate all commercial crops produced yearly.  Of course, farmers could not possibly do this daunting task by hand anyway, thanks to the free service of pollinators.

Beneficial fauna also helps farm productivity in different ways, from keeping undesirable organisms in check -by providing biological control, through integrated pest management techniques, to physically moving manure into the soil, saving millions of dollars in treatments. What do these pollinators and beneficial organisms require to do their work?  Natural habitats with intact ecosystem structures that can allow them to thrive and help increase you farm productivity.

Countdown to the VT Grazing & Livestock Conference!

Posted: January 2nd, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

2013-07-24 14.22.25Coming Right Up: 18th Annual VT Grazing & Livestock Conference
Farm Management Decisions: More Than the Sum(s) of Their Parts
January 17 & 18, 2014 Lake Morey Resort, Fairlee, VT

The conference will include day-long focused sessions on soil health and farm planning on Friday January 17.  On Saturday January 18, there will be 21 workshops for all types of livestock operations including dairy, beef, sheep, swine, poultry.  The conference features keynote speaker Dr. Ben Bartlett, retired Extension Livestock Specialist from Michigan State University and farmer raising sheep and beef, as well as other national, regional, and local speakers.

Workshop highlights include sessions on:

  • ·         Day-long soil health intensive—get the most from your soil
  • ·         Building a productive, profitable and pleasurable farm operation
  • ·         Implications of soil health—measuring what we see
  • ·         Economics of grazing under different scenarios
  • ·         Low and no-grain feeding
  • ·         Haylage quality and feeding for pasture-based farms
  • ·         Low stress animal handling
  • ·         More sheep, less work

Ready to register?  Online registration here.Looking to learn more?  Check out workshop details and speakers here.

Conference hosted by the Vermont Grass Farmers Association (VGFA) and the Vermont Beef Producers’ Associations (VBPA), and coordinated by the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  Registration discounts are available for VGFA and VBPA members.  More details about the conference as well as registration are available at www.uvm.edu/pasture.  Contact conference coordinator Jenn Colby at jcolby@uvm.edu, (802) 656-0858 with any questions.

Socialize With Cows to Promote Soil Fertility

Posted: November 25th, 2013 by VT Pasture Network

IMG_2700by Juan Alvez, Pasture Technical Coordinator

When I studied Agronomy in Brazil, my grazing mentors recommended that farmers that walked in the paddock or grazing strips for a few minutes previous to moving

the cows to a fresh pasture, might stimulate soil fertility. If you are wondering how this is possible, read on and I’ll try to explain.

Before moving their animals, Brazilian farmers are advised to take time to walk observing their pastures, manure distribution, trampling and height of residual pasture. While they circulate, crisscrossing slowly among them, they also count and check cow’s health. Farmers know that cows want to be moved and when cows see the farmer, they immediately associate him/her with fresh pastures. However, by not moving them right away, cows become uneasy, with a mix of euphoria and stress. They want the fresh and luscious next strip of grass as soon as possible but the patient walk of the farmer among them seems endless. All this excitement causes them to move around. Impatiently, they walk, manure and urinate.

Cows are amazing herbivorous ruminants that convert solar energy stored in forages into milk or meat and have evolved by grazing and moving into new areas seeking fresh pastures. Grazed pastures were then left behind and had adequate time to regrow before the next grazing. In addition, predators co-evolved with ruminants keeping them in check. In the old times, predators played a great role by keeping herds productive and healthy by culling the weakest and leaving the fittest individuals. Predators stimulated animals to leave their urine and manure on the pastures they grazed a trampled.

Sound familiar?

Here is where the rationale of this simple management technique resides: Before strolling to the milk parlor, in the case of dairy, or moving to a new pasture, in the case of beef or dry cows, animals are stimulated to leave an extra shot of fertility on previously grazed pastures. One of the advantages of this is that they leave the grazed pasture with partially empty rumens. This simple measure can provide cleaner milking facilities, reducing labor, odors and flies. And, if they are moved to the next strip of pasture, they will not manure the fresh pastures right away, increasing forage intake and minimizing losses.

I can try to explain this cow’s behavior by associating it to a similar one, observed by Allan Savory while working as a Biologist and Park Ranger in Zimbabwe. Savory learned that when cows –or, in his case, wilderbeast, another ruminant – were stalked by predators, they flock together and walk around in circles, stomping their hooves in an intimidatory attitude. Their stress levels makes them urinate and manure. This is a normal prey instinct that increases protection of the herd and does wonders for soil fertility.

Moreover, animals can’t stay for too long in a given area or they will attract predators. Then, they have to graze and move! No time to appreciate beautiful mountains, valleys and rivers. It is a nourishing graze and go cycle! But most farms don’t have predators anymore because humanity has achieved the highest extinction rate in planet’s history. For that reason if you want to boost soil fertility, please take a moment to socialize with your cows!

Animal Behavior: Avoiding Grazing Selectivity

Posted: November 18th, 2013 by VT Pasture Network

By Juan Alvez , Pasture Program Technical CoordinatorCenterlogo300dpi copy Sept 1-12 082 Soil spaces in pasture Thistles!

In general, well-managed swards should present a variety of grasses, legumes and forbs, each fulfilling an important function in animal nutrition and health. All species have more or less, sugars, proteins and minerals. Legumes are well-known for fixing nitrogen via plant root-bacteria symbiosis. They also carry important protein building blocks. Forbs -also reputed as weeds- pack vital minerals in its tissues, while grasses contribute mostly with sugars or carbohydrates. Non-poisonous weed grazing convey many benefits and should be encouraged (see our blog posts on this subject).

However, reaching a balanced equilibrium among species can sometimes take knowledge and years of careful observation and management. Then, it is crucial to reframe that walking the pastures, observing when-what-how animals eat, and knowing when is the right time to assign them a fresh pasture, resting the current one, has to be done, meticulously, with flexibility and never at random. It is a reasoned act.

So, all that is true and important but, cows are smart beings. Like us, they have their favorite plants and, if unchecked, they can (and will) be selective. Selective grazers graze the same forage plants over and over. Plants that are grazed before they are ready can become weak and can even die. Also, animals that graze selectively, miss the opportunity of getting important nutrients from the rest of the sward.

When forage selectivity happens, it may be wise to observe and investigate why is this happening. A few thoughts come to mind. For instance, cows may be staying for too long in a given pasture. Readjusting stocking rates might be necessary to minimize selectivity. Animals might be returning to graze in a pasture that is not yet ready, or present vestiges of manure or urine clumps marks. In this case, animals will not graze evenly because they have a very sensitive sense of smell.

The best way to avoid grazing selectivity is to adopt an adequate stocking rate in your pastures. This will stimulate grazing peer pressure and paddocks will be grazed more evenly. Following the short occupation-long-rests period for each season will also decrease grazing selectivity. In finding the cause and solution for grazing selectivity it is best to avoid grazing under 3 inches. It is always desirable to leave an ungrazed, trampled and manured forage residual.

It’s OK to Trample!

Posted: November 11th, 2013 by VT Pasture Network

Larson jerseys

by Kimberly Hagen, Pasture Program Grazing Specialist

“Graziers need to get beyond the paralyzing paradigm of wasting grass if we want to be truly sustainable.”

Those are the words of Ian Mitchell-Innes, of South Africa – farmer, philosopher, punster and no-nonsense world renowned educator of grazing farmers, and wanna-be grazers all over this planet. He was speaking to a group of that sort, at a Grazing Workshop held the Larsen Farm in Wells, Vermont earlier this year, and the timing was spot on for hearing those blunt words.  As I travel around the state, and visit with farmers seeking to develop a good grazing system or improve the one they have, I find this is one of the most difficult of concepts to get rearranged in the mind.  There is a lot of fretting going on about “all that wasted feed”.  But is it really wasted?

Not in the minds of those that promote and practice grazing. While there are varying beliefs and opinions as to what degree of trampling is best, for the most part, the general consensus is that ungrazed residue really keeps you on the right side of the line whether you are looking at the benefits for good feed, the economics, or the ecological impact of that trampled forage.

There’s a strong economic point to be made, notes Dan Hudson, agronomist with University of Vermont Extension, “keeping costs low even if it is ugly to look at, it sometimes does not make sense to clip it”, as one would be spending for the time and fuel to clip.

Mr. Litter, as Troy Bishopp, New York grazing consultant and host for Mitchell-Innes’ travels in the Northeast, has so aptly named him, promotes a ratio of 80% trampling to 20% grazing for soil building, water-holding, carbon sequestering reasons.

“We are in the energy business:  Energy is money, money is energy, and time is money”, Mitchell-Innes says.  “For us to be successful, we must capture the free solar energy by converting plants through the grazing and trampling of the grass by animals and feed the soil with this carbon-based material. One day we will be recognized for our organic matter-building capability by consumers around the world and be justly paid for sequestering carbon.”

For some, grazing tall (greater than 10 inches), at greater densities and only long enough for the animals to chomp the top third of the plant is a bit too extreme. Their comfort level resides somewhere on the continuum towards shorter grazing, or incorporating other management practices to achieve similar goals.

As Hudson points out, sometimes there isn’t a choice. Tall grazing and moving animals along quickly can leave a pasture looking uneven and “raggedy” and if you are renting or leasing pasture land and the owner likes the look of a neatly mowed field, you will have to clip after the animals graze it. However, one alternative that Hudson likes is to allow animals access back into the clipped section after he has opened a new paddock.  In this way the animals trample on the clippings and drag them around, which accomplishes the same goal that Ian puts forth, and sets up a friendly environment for regrowth of the forage as it keeps the soil cool and moist.

If this happens to a different part of your pasture every year, it might work out very well in the long run”, he says, although it can be tricky to get precise results. Weather can send the best laid plans out the window in favor of Plan B or C.   

I have personally explored and experimented with several of these management practices; grazing tall, increasing the density of the animals on a paddock, moving them quickly, or slowing way down depending on the weather, bringing in other, heavier species to do some serious trampling of the downed forage, and I have sometimes clipped – when undesirable plants are numerous and drowning out the diversity chorus.  Many times I have left the paddocks alone, for the seeds to mature and drop to the ground for next year’s foraging. 

Some of these have been wonderfully successful and some have not, but in each case something was learned through the process and maybe that’s a goal in itself. Mitchell-Innes’ ideas may be extreme for the conservative New England mind, but then he has had lots of practice in a very brittle environment and one cannot help but appreciate his push back to farmers to look up from their immediate tasks and step back for a good gaze at the big picture – then return to the farm to observe, observe and observe some more, learning to trust their own  judgement. 

So let those animals trample. Be flexible and try other new ideas.  Then, most importantly, pay attention to what happens, make many observations, and keep good records. Let us know what you discover!

Planned Grazing Featured on NPR, Tested in Vermont

Posted: September 3rd, 2013 by VT Pasture Network

Several weeks ago, NPR featured a piece on using planned grazing to build soil.  While the piece focused on a ranch in Colorado, the concept is one that farmers in Vermont have also been working with for over a decade.  In fac0299t, the Pasture Program is part of a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant to teach technical assistance providers more about the techniques in order to help farmers achieve their goals, including the goal of building soil.

While Allan Savory’s techniques of building soil through quick rotations, high density animal impact, putting animals in desertified areas, and grazing riparian zones may be subjects of controversy, the concept of planning a grazing season should not be.  Planning ahead to decide which pastures to use and rest, when to hay, how many days plants have had to recover their leaf matter before being rebitten…these are business decisions.  Businesses are stronger when they plan for good times and bad.

Don’t think this is important?  In this year of complicated weather, many farmers have been extremely challenged to produce dry hay or even get on to fields in order to cut and wrap baleage.  One farmer who uses the planned grazing chart knew at what point (roughly) during ast year’s drought he’d need to buy hay if the rain didn’t come.  He was able to buy hay early at a GREAT price, because the other farmers around him hadn’t approached the seller yet.

If you’d like to learn more about our planned grazing project or a grazing chart to get you started, we’ve got both.


Trampling Paradigms in Vermont

Posted: June 24th, 2013 by VT Pasture Network

Troy (yellow coat) testing Ian's (right) grazing expertise out in the pasture.

Troy (yellow coat) testing Ian’s (right) grazing expertise out in the pasture.

Troy Bishopp, aka The Grass Whisperer

www.thegrasswhisperer.com, www.cnyrcd.org/planned-grazing-participants/

Wells, Vermont- In the coolness of a Vermont landscape etched with green pastures, green mountains and small farmers, stood a passionate rancher from South Africa ready to inspire others about the “whole” future of grass-based agriculture.

The internationally recognized, holistically-driven grazier, Ian Mitchell-Innes, is no namby-pamby in the opinion department which excited the capacity crowd of independent-minded farmers and conservation professionals about the merits of “managing with two generations in mind”.  “We must work to nudge Mother Nature not club her over the head and move away from the 99% of agriculture that deals in parts”, said Mr. Innes. His message is catching on as the new USDA-NRCS Soil Health Initiative gets underway.

In his 3 month stay in America teaching countless ranchers and farmers about holistic decision-making and grazing management, he has seen a phenomenal change in the audience, with 80% being young farmers asking lots of questions concerning the status quo of conventional, linear thinking.  “We’ve got to keep you farmers on the land by addressing root causes with management and not sending your money to town treating symptoms.  If there’s a problem, it’s best to look in the mirror first before blaming.  It’s high time to start managing towards what you want with what you have and change our bottom-feeder status in the community”, emphasized Ian.

Ian referred to the environment in which we work as “managing chaos” and on the importance of goal setting and holistic planning.  “We are in the energy business:  Energy is money, money is energy, and time is money, he said.  For us to be successful, we must capture the free solar energy by converting plants through the grazing and trampling of the grass by animals and feed the soil with this carbon-based material. One day we will be recognized for our organic matter building capability by consumers around the world and be justly paid for sequestering carbon.”

Mr. Litter thinks all this can be accomplished by a vibrant grazing community working within a holistic management decision-making process adapted to your locale that concentrates on soil health, grazing management, animal performance, diversity, wealth generation from carbon and most of all—–having fun.  To achieve this he focuses on improving the 4 ecosystem processes:  The water cycle, the mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics (diversity).  He uses planned grazing tools to make this happen.

His approach to grazing management that includes high density, taller grazing and only taking the top third of the plant with lots of “wasted grass” could be construed as contradictory to the intensive grazing/prescribed grazing model advocated in the Northeast but Ian defends his position by looking to the soil surface for answers. 

“I’m suggesting, not telling, farmers to feed the carbon on the soil as well as getting top animal performance by grazing for energy and not for protein, which means grazing just the tops and letting the animals have more selection.  Graziers need to get beyond the paralyzing paradigm of wasting grass if we want to be truly sustainable.”

How much are you trampling?  The more plant matter trampled in to the soil, the more biological activity  is being fed by the plant carbon.  And the more plant matter being produced the next year.

How much are you trampling? The more plant matter trampled in to the soil, the more biological activity is being fed by the plant carbon. And the more plant matter being produced the next year.

After an enjoyable local lunch featuring NOFA-Vermont’s mobile pizza oven and all the fixins’, Ian led the large contingent of farmers into the pastures looking at trampling ratios, animal grazing behavior, rumen fill and soil health indicators while the animals were moved to a new paddock.

Hosts for the workshop, Richard & Cynthia Larson of Larson Farm & Morningside Stables in Wells, Vermont, are believers and practitioners in what Ian has taught them on their 120 acre, multi-species dairy, beef and equine operation.  “He taught us to keep an open mind and be flexible with our management and gave us the tools to monitor our farm.  We can see our land; animals and bank account improve and realize trampled forage as a true soil conditioner.  We like being in the energy business”, said the Larsons.

Brian Maloney, a beef farmer and custom grazier, from Brylee Farm in Thurso, Québec traveled over 5 hours to get these new ideas and meet like-minded people.  “I came to learn about the 80-20% trampling ratios and what they look like on the land and getting away from purchasing hay.  I came away being punch-drunk by having all my preconceived paradigms broken”, he said.

Massachusetts Conservation District Professional, Bruce Howlett attended as part of his training through a NESARE professional development project in working with farmers on holistic planned grazing.  “I came to hear more about mob-grazing and how it can relate to my small farm customers.  I left with a better understanding of how trampling and feeding the soil as an essential part of the whole grazing system.  It was eye-opening experience.”

Jenn Colby, UVM/Vermont Pasture Network and NESARE PDP Grazing Training Coordinator indicated she was absolutely thrilled with the turnout and ideas exchanged.  “To have grazing and land management concepts from all over the world brought to my home state is awesome.  It helps me realize I’m on the right track with looking at wholes.  For me, Ian stitched all the threads together.”

No grazing event worth its salt could end properly without first enjoying conversations and networking over some fine ice-cream from the Strafford Organic Creamery at Rock Bottom Farm in Strafford, Vermont.  The holistic-minded rancher came to the area to initiate some different perspectives and thinking while getting folks away from the mindset of can’t.  Ian commented, “It’s amazing to me to see the change of attitudes from the beginning of the day to the end.  I think some paradigms have been trampled.”

Production is everything.  "If you don't get animal performance, you'll go broke.", says Ian.

Production is everything. “If you don’t get animal performance, you’ll go broke.”, says Ian.

The event was sponsored by the Central NY Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. in partnership with the Planned Grazing Training Project (“Utilizing Holistic Planned Grazing as a Regenerative Engine for Sustainable Agriculture” – funded by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education;www.sare.org) and the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

To find more on planned grazing tools and techniques go to www.cnyrcd.org/planned-grazing-participants/ or contact Jenn Colby at (802) 656-0858.  To see a conversation with Ian Mitchell-Innes, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3r2cqNfkKs

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