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VT Pasture Network

Grazing and Conservation in Brazil and Vermont: More Alike Than You Might Think

Posted: August 27th, 2015 by VT Pasture Network

By: Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator at the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Santa Catarina mountainous farmscape

Santa Catarina mountainous farmscape

Early this year, my work in sustainable agriculture brought me to the State of Santa Catarina (Southern Brazil), as a co-instructor of “Agroecology, Ecosystem Services and Farmer’s Livelihoods”. There, I joined about twenty people, visiting farms located at the Atlantic Forest, on a 9-day applied field course and workshop. The event was hosted by Universities of Vermont and Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina.

Santa Catarina and Vermont share many similarities, including topography, size and identity with rural living and family farms. On the other hand, Santa Catarina State has subtropical humid climate and the level of deforestation reaches over 88%. Also, the Atlantic forest is considered a biodiversity hotspot, harboring more species per hectare than NE U.S.

While formerly, most farmers planted tobacco, eucalyptus and other high input crops, currently they still face the challenges of farming in very steep terrains and providing for their families. Soil erosion, nutrient runoff and water quality were a rampant problem.

However, the main challenge is to meet the requirements set by the Brazilian Forest Act. Currently most of these farmers and specially the smallest ones, are occupying areas of permanent preservation such as hilltops, riparian areas and water sources thus, clearly infringing environmental laws.

This workshop aimed to contribute to a long-term search for creative solutions that can help promote conservation, restore the Atlantic Forest, preserving its rich biodiversity and sustaining rural livelihoods through agroecological practices.

We visited the town of Santa Rosa De Lima, –also known as the “agro-ecology capital of Brazil”-, to study silvopastoral systems with high-levels of native biodiversity. The focus was on how different agroecological practices can support conservation efforts in Santa Catarina. Specifically, we wanted to investigate how combining new forest patches with management-intensive grazing (MIG) can be one of the approaches to address deforestation, improving dairy production and keeping families in their farms.

Planting native multiple trees species on a rotationaly grazed pasture

Volunteers planting multiple native trees species on a rotationally grazed pasture

Previously, it has been found that farmers who switched to MIG observed improvements in environmental and production variables with increases in pasture productivity, with 55% reporting a slight increase in pasture area without deforesting new areas. A larger herd size was achieved in 63% of the farms surveyed. Daily total milk production and productivity per animal increased by 80% and 73%, respectively.

Improvements in soil cover, soil quality, and soil moisture were reported in 87%, 95%, and 80% of surveyed farms. Producers also perceived a stabilization and reduction of erosion gullies; electric fencing restricted animal access to rivers, which decreased in 59% of farms, while riparian buffers increased in 22% of the properties. Thus, perceived water quality improved for 29% of interviewees.

Ticks diminished in 73% of the farms, mastitis in 80%, intestinal worms in 67%. Pesticide use dropped in 60% of farms and TMR fed to animals decreased in 49% of the farms.

From left to right: Bertilo (Ag. Service Provider), Abdon Schmitt and Joshua Farley (Faculty), Skyler Perkins (Student)

From left to right: Bertilo (Ag. Service Provider), Abdon Schmitt and Joshua Farley (Faculty), Skyler Perkins (Student)

Manure accumulation in the milk parlor dropped in 53%, and workload fell from 8 to 4 hours per day in 66% of the farms respectively. Consequently, 67% of the farms reported better quality of life. Lastly, economic return was optimal or within expectations for 67% of farmers and production costs fell according to 34% of interviewees.

This long-term collaboration has ties to Vermont, with inspirations that can be tracked two decades ago, influenced by Bill Murphy (Professor Emeritus of UVM, PSS). The on-going collaboration includes three University of Vermont institutions, the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, and students and researchers from two Brazilian Universities (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina and Universidade de Sao Paulo).


Soil moisture sensors can help manage grazing

Posted: August 13th, 2015 by VT Pasture Network

By: Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator

UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture

As predictions for the Northeastern U.S. suggest wetter, warmer climate in the near future, the use of technology such as precision agriculture, can be of great use to enable a more sustainable modern day farming.

One of the tools the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (UVM Extension) is using to evaluate, for example, the most appropriate moment to graze, are soil moisture sensors (SMS). They can track real-time water movement and record information that can be instantly viewed on a computer or on a smartphone.

Soil moisture varies depending on soil types, precipitation and temperature. Soil moisture devices can be used under several ground cover conditions, and can help create moisture maps of the areas by the use of global positioning systems (GPS) at any given time in the season.

By using devices such as SMS, farmers are able to make real-time decisions about where they will place their animals, establish crops and without causing soil compaction or destroying their ground cover.

In 2015, we installed three-SMS at Health Hero Island Farm in South Hero, VT as part of a 3-year USDA NRCS funded research. Eric Nöel -who grazes about 80 cows at Health Hero Island Farm-, welcomes cutting-edge research that can help him and other farmers take instant action on farm management decisions. Nöel understands that placing animals or, running machinery on wet soils can quickly aggravate soil physical conditions like structure, compaction and infiltration.

Installing soil moisture sensors in the field

Joshua Faulkner installing soil moisture sensors in the field

Installed soil moisture sensor (back view)

Installed soil moisture sensor (back view)

Installed soil moisture sensor (front view)

Installed soil moisture sensor (front view)

When planning for the summer slump, consider Pearl Millet

Posted: June 3rd, 2015 by VT Pasture Network

By: Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator

UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Getting ready for mid-summer dry weather for your grazing animals? Pearl millet may be a great annual option because of its incredible resiliency!. (scroll down to see the pictures and blog post below)

Pearl millet or Millet [Pennisetum americanum (L.) R. Br. is a warm season annual grass that is well-adapted to fertile soils. With proper management millet can easily yield around 10 ton of forage to the acre, right when cool-season forages nearly stop growing due to hydric stress. Millet has an excellent quality, with low tannins and high protein, calcium, phosphorus and digestibility levels. Additionally, preliminary [non-conclusive] results of a study conducted in Vermont evidence that its fatty acid profile is similar to that of the diverse cool-season forages in the Northeastern U.S. These benefits show up in the milk or meat of animals that graze it, delivering excellent health benefits.

Millet loves heat and it is drought tolerant but can endure wet soils. It must be established in early summer (by the end of May, beginning of June), at the average rate of 20 pounds per acre. It can be potentially ready to be grazed around mid-July on. If carefully managed, it can yield two or even three grazing rotations until the first frost.

Millet can be used for grazing, hay, silage or green-chop. Pasture management research and observation recommends to start grazing millet before boot stage, when it reaches between 18 and 24 inches high, leaving about 10 to 12 inches of residue. Millet can take a lot of grazing pressure and animals must be allowed to graze a paddock for a few hours per day or, rotated as many times as needed per day. The use of strip-grazing with a back fence is strongly recommended to promote faster re-growth while avoiding damaging it.Prussic acid is not a concern in Pearl Millet but nitrate poisoning can be a problem if, a) high nitrogen fertilization rates are applied, b) prolonged droughts are followed by rain; and c) encountering any condition that kills the plant but not the roots such as, frost, hail, grazing and trampling, etc.

In a study we conducted during 2014 at a farm in Highgate, Vermont, we drilled 7 acres of millet on a beaten “sacrifice” paddock. Millet was exposed to different levels of grazing pressure: light, medium and heavly grazed. In each condition, its re-growth was impressively vigorous, even when plants looked heavily grazed and with little chances of recovering.

So, when planning your next cover crop give Pearl Millet a try!


Have you explored different successful forage ideas to overcome the summer slump and have a more uniform livestock production along the season? You can share your observations by dropping us a line at the UVM Pasture Program:

Juan Alvez (jalvez@uvm.edu); Kimberly Hagen (kimberly.hagen@uvm.edu) and, Jennifer Colby (jcolby@uvm.edu)


You can find more resources about pearl millet below:


King Agriseeds

Any reference to commercial products, trade names, websites or brand names is for information only, and no endorsement or approval is intended.

Right Sizing Farms

Posted: May 15th, 2015 by VT Pasture Network

By Kimberly Hagen
Grazing Specialist

2014-06-12 12.02.22Right-sizing. It’s what all farms must do if they are to stay profitable, and in balance, preserving the integrity of the soil, water and air, both on the farm and in the surrounding environment. As the water quality issue moves Vermont and its agricultural community into deeper levels of debate on how to address the issue, it’s clear that each farm must also work to find that “right size”.

Each farm has a unique set of variables due to its bedrock, soils, topography, water – both underground and on the surface, type of livestock, vegetation and owner. It’s not unlike baking a cake. You lay out the ingredients, and then commence with the mixing them in the proper proportion for taste, lightness and the fit to the pan it will be baked in – in other words – rightsizing. If the proportions are off, it won’t taste good, it may not rise, and it won’t fit in the pan, and overflow onto the oven floor for a tedious clean-up. That can happen with farms too.
Unfortunately, overflow from a farm is more than just tedious, it is costly – nutrients are lost and overloaded vegetation, soil and water sputter with the suffocation in a toxic brew or starve with overtaxing removal of nutrients needed for reproduction. The productivity potential is lost. Not only does the farm lose, but we all do as that toxicity taxes the local and collectively owned environment, lessening its productivity as well.

For example, if the wet areas or streams on your farm look like chocolate milk every time there is precipitation, even the lightest sprinkle, nutrients are not being absorbed on the farm, and instead are making a quick exit. If you find you are feeding out stored feed by the beginning of July, you might want to think about reevaluating your land/livestock ratio, or at least your current management of them. These are signals of a need for better balance, and a change in management is often the simplest, and least expensive approach for getting started. Buffalo, cows and horses are heavy animals with 1,000 pounds and more distributed on four feet. Confine them to a small area for weeks or months and it doesn’t take long before problems arise. Equally disruptive is frequent tillage and constant bare soil exposure. Moving air and water can hastily capture the freely floating nutrients, and carry them away, dropping them where they might not be needed or wanted – such as Lake Champlain.

Two years ago while attending a conference on grazing, I listened to a farmer describing the journey he had made after rejecting the conventional practices expected for a farming operation. He rejected that path because he was losing so much money, yet working harder than ever, and had no time with his family. His farm was not healthy and neither was he. Yet farming was his choice of profession. He decided to trust his own observations and judgement and after several years of trials seeking the match for the soils, the water, the vegetation, the livestock and the quality of life he wanted, he found the right size for his farm.

The familiarity was instant – this is a concept that I know many of my colleagues and myself carry around in our minds, minus a commonly agreed upon term. I like this word – it’s succinct, and descriptive. And it really is the core of what we do – working with farmers to find that sweet spot of what the farm has for ingredients, and potential for productivity and how best to manage those ingredients for the best possible outcome for the immediate, and with an eye for continued productivity – sustainability – for the future.

As a technical service provider, we have a fine line to walk – listening to what the producer wants and providing them with the information from research, yet also informing them of any and all parameters – both those laid down in the natural world and those made by humans.

This coming field season, we look forward to working with livestock farmers to find the right size for their operations – keeping the soil and water on their farms and in the river, clean, healthy and productive.


‘Baby, it’s Cold Outside’: Watch out for Livestock!

Posted: January 8th, 2015 by VT Pasture Network

Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator, Center for Sustainable Agriculture – UVM Extension

Livestock animals can bear cold weather. But even if we want to extend the grazing season, keeping our animals outside, as much as possible, there are some kinds of cold weather that we must pay very careful attention to.  When it comes to protecting our animals’ health and ensuring their productivity it is important to know a few facts.

Fig. 1. Limousin Beef Cattle at Venner Farm, IA (http://vennerlimousin.com/about/are-your-cows-this-tough/)

Fig. 1. Limousin Beef Cattle at Venner Farm, IA. Excellent body condition is key.

Extreme winter has not been a major concern for Vermont (and Northeast) livestock farmers because, in general, cattle can tolerate the elements … unless two primary circumstances are present: (1) poor body condition and, (2) wet, windy weather with subzero wind chill temperatures (Fig. 1).

Cattle livestock endure ‘comfortably’ in temperature ranges between 0C (32F) and 24C (74F). Production does not get significantly affected in this temperature range as long as they have sufficient hay, feed and water to keep their body condition. Unlike the weather, fortunately this is something farmers can control.

On the other hand, relative humidity plays a big role during degraded weather circumstances. Animals will suffer greatly (and you will notice!), when extreme temperatures are accompanied by wet and windy conditions.  Thus, extreme cold weather can take a toll on your herd, particularly taking down animals with previous health problems, or the ones that don’t have at least periodic access to enough food and/or a shelter.

What can farmers do?

Silvopasture (cows grazing under trees)

Fig. 2. Wooded pastures or silvopasture (an agroforestry  practice where cows graze under trees), are great shelter alternatives for cows enduring cold or warm weather.

In extreme cold like much of the northern US is currently experiencing, if proper facilities exist, animals should be guarded and sheltered indoors (e.g. barn). A bedded pack barn, is probably the best alternative for that.

However, if you chose to keep them outside, please plan ahead of the bad weather and establish a “forest barn” in a wooded pasture area (Fig. 2). If we assume that most of the cold comes from above (cold air is heavier than warm), and that animal heat is thinner and escapes, then covering your animals is a good idea.

Fig. 3. Herd flocks together to keep warm. During winter, provide enough hay and bedding area



Cows compensate temperature differences with a ‘coat’ for every season and they can generate metabolic heat, and heat from movement. If cold, these gregarious animals will flock together and alternate places and benefit from the heat exchange released by the herd. Animals in the outer circle will try to find a warm spot and ‘force’ themselves into the center, pushing the ones in the inner (Fig. 3).

If your farm doesn’t have facilities that can accommodate your animals, it may not be a bad idea to build a rustic shelter (perhaps adjacent to the forest barn), re-using inexpensive tarps and rope (Figure 3).

Always keep enough bedding in the barn or in the woods, so that cows can lay down in a relatively dry spot. If your cows are in a “forest barn”, try changing the areas where they stay periodically, to avoid erosion and nutrient runoff during the ‘mud season’.

Temperature Humidity Index (THI)

In hot weather, monitor temperature and appetite. Take note of the Temperature Humidity Index (THI), an equation that indicates that when relative humidity at a given temperature increases, then comfort factor decreases. For example, if temperature is around 92 and relative humidity is 85, THI should read 89, which is almost borderline for severe stress. However, in dairy cows, milk production starts being affected when THI reaches beyond 78. (See chart).

In sum, yes, beef cattle can withstand subzero temperatures for a few days but, they may die (or significantly lower production), if they present poor body condition and wet, windy low temperatures bump into them.

Take-Away Ideas

  1. Be aware that animals whose general health is poor may need special attention to survive or remain productive during extreme weather conditions.
  2. During temperature extremes, take special care that your animals have access, at least periodically, to shelter and adequate feed.
  3. If the temperature is below 32F or above 74F, consider providing your herd shelter in a barn, Bedded Pack barn, or “Forest Barn” in a wooded area.
  4. Remember, cold air is heavier than warm air and mostly comes from above so, protect your animals and stay ahead in production!


Dr. Frank Wiersama, 1990. Dept. of agricultural Engineering. Univ. of Arizona.  http://www.heatstress.info/heatstressinfo/TemperatureHumidityIndexCattle/tabid/1232/Default.aspx

Venner Farm, IA. http://vennerlimousin.com/about/are-your-cows-this-tough/

Grazing sequentially vs. pasture skipping

Posted: November 14th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator, Center for Sustainable Agriculture – UVM Extension

Sequential grazing via strips or paddocks

Sequential grazing via strips or paddocks


For many livestock farmers, grazing pastures and paddocks in a simple, sequential order may be tempting.

It can be an uncomplicated way to keep track of where animals have been. It is admittedly easy to set up a large pasture and to move those fences, strip grazing as they go from start to finish, especially during early spring, when forage growth is so hard to keep up.  During this period, sequential grazing may be an acceptable approach, especially if animals are able to graze the top 20 to 50% of the plants and move quickly, staying for very short occupation periods.

However, in some cases this approach may mean missed opportunities to maximize forage efficiency, soil health and animal growth, which are key goals of optimal pasture management.

Livestock producers deal with an array of interacting variables: seasons, weather, soils, forage types, animal categories and management. Their cycles of resting, feeding and reproduction happen dynamically, mandated by seasons and weather, and affect pasture growth.

    Cows grazing on a paddock. To the right, previously grazed paddock; to the left, paddock to be grazed.

Cows grazing on a paddock. To the left, previously grazed paddock; to the right, paddock to be grazed.

But, why might following a sequential rotation not be the best approach in rotational grazing?

Sequentially rotating livestock means moving animals in a static sequence throughout pastures, either via fixed paddocks or by strip grazing. While rotating animals using electric fence and smaller paddocks has been practiced since the end of the last century, some grazing cattle producers still graze their animals following fixed rotations. Arguably, sequentially moving animals throughout a pasture is similar to establishing a fixed rotation, allotting animals fixed areas. Sometimes this leads to fixed occupation and rest periods. If a sequential rotation is repeated too often and without doing grazing math, it may compromise mid-to late season pasture production because it takes away flexibility regarding seasons or forage availability.

Grazing wherever forages are ready sometimes means not following an orderly sequence

Grazing wherever forages are ready sometimes means not following an orderly sequence

Forage production tends to slow down and shrink over time along the season. To make up for the scarcity, some either graze for too long or even too close to the ground (thus overgrazing), producing u­nfinished animals or causing health problems.

Paddock Skipping

Pasture skipping: cows move where forage is most ready to be grazed rather than sequentially. Observation, measurements and grazing math are key to master this skill.

Every inch of forage that is unnecessarily grazed weakens the photosynthesis capacity of the remaining leaves and pastures can take weeks to recover. Recovery of overgrazed forages forces the plants to draw from stores of carbohydrates (sugars) stored in the roots. If this practice is reiterated, the root structure becomes depleted, and the risk of soil exposure to the elements can ultimately lead to the erosion of the soil that farmers work so hard to build.

Skipping pastures where forage is ready to graze may entail more labor by moving animals to the right place, a few times a day. However, it is a no-cost opportunity to enhance both soil and animal health as your livestock is able to harvest more forage in its optimum stage, while also extending the grazing season. (Plus the answer to a need for a bit more labor can even be easily solved remotely, pre-setting a few Batt-Latch automatic gate openers.)



Life and soil minerals

Posted: October 2nd, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator, Center for Sustainable Agriculture – UVM Extension

Since the onset of agriculture, successful farming has meant the extraction of minerals from soil as plants grow. A relatively small world population and a vast agricultural frontier made this seem a problem of minor consideration and until relatively recently, Planet Earth seemed infinite!

Image by: http://www.healthylife-healthyplanet.com/essential-minerals.html

Plants may look the same, but some depleted agricultural soils may lack important minerals.

However, today many health professionals agree that even human health relates to the minerals present or, lacking in the soil. Depleted soils can exacerbate metabolic diseases that may unlock an array of health consequences. “Animals and humans are the biochemical picture of the soil”, said Andre Voisin, in his “Soil, Grass and Cancer” book. This approach shows us that an imbalanced equation, with foods grown in poor-quality soils, cannot produce positive results in living organisms.

Minerals and other micronutrients become available in the soil very slowly. It takes millions of years for rocks to break down, generations of animal carcasses to decompose and return their constituent elements to the soil. But what takes millions of years can be depleted in a geologically relative instant.   This happens because crops and animals that grow every year in our farmlands, draw upon the minerals for their growth (present in carcasses and grains), and these “withdrawals” are rarely re-deposited. In the last 150 years, the rate ­­­of extraction of soil minerals, from crops to livestock, has been far greater than what has been put back in. To complicate this scenario even more, most agricultural soils are back on production shortly after a new season starts, extracting yet more nutrients from an already depleted system.

It’s true that soil amendments are frequently applied by many farmers.  But when amended, soils usually receive tiny, effectively homeopathic amounts, and these are frequently in the form of synthetic fertilizers or raw manure, compared to the considerably large quantities removed. These applications mainly replenish macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and are usually catered to a given crop. This is far from enough. Micronutrients such as, calcium, iron, magnesium, boron, zinc, etc., are as important or more for diverse life functions, (included human health), but they are usually the first to be neglected.

Ideally, minerals should be processed -ingested and digested- by soil microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, nematodes and earthworms), and aggregated into organic matter before they can be healthily absorbed through the food chain. Most soils contain micronutrients, but they are considered healthy, when living organisms are present. All these creatures need water to mobilize minerals, and water is more successfully held in soils that remain covered.

What can farmers’ do?

To promote a healthy cycle in your farm:

  • Perform a soil test, consult with a soil professional and see what is missing.
  • Avoid practices that disturb the soil. Revolved soils burn organic matter, hold less water and become inhospitable for soil life.
  • Retire the plow. Paint it, make a decoration reminding the times when we did not understand how aggressive this tool was.
  • Use minimum or, no-till practices; they will preserve, soil structure and function.
  • Use composted manure or any reliable compost.
  • Amend compost piles manually, by sprinkling micro minerals -to the pile or row-, before turning. This can be easily done as the pile grows and it will avoid operation costs of spreading them separated. When composted, spread it in the field.
  • Adopt grazing, no-till cropping and fallow periods, in adequate sequence.
  • Rotating high-stock density grazing animals for short periods is among the most efficient and effective way to incorporate nutrients back overtime. Grazing animals can do most of the work themselves but, they won’t open the gates.

Organic matter will buffer and catalyze mineral absorption. In the end, a living soil plays an essential role, enabling important ecosystem processes and functions such as, creating structure, binding the soil together, helping mobilize minerals and producing benefits from nutrition, health, climate regulation, yields and pleasant landscapes.

Batt-Latch: “Set it and forget it!”

Posted: July 14th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator, Center for Sustainable Agriculture – UVM Extension

A Batt-Latch automatic gate opener

A Batt-Latch automatic gate opener

Being a farmer is simply one of the busiest human activities so, what grazing farmer wouldn’t benefit from an automatic gate opener?

We recently learned about this useful device with the ability to automatically open gates. It is called a ‘Batt-Latch.’ A Batt-Latch is an electronic locking device (developed by NZ company Jenquip), that incorporates a timer that can release the gate latch at a specified time to open a gate into another paddock. It’s a solar-powered all-weather device that releases an attached spring-gate or tape-gate at a preset time, and is especially suited to the release of grazing animals in pastured and feedlot situations.

With the addition of an optional pipe gate adapter, the Batt-Latch can be used to open almost any type of farm gate. Besides grazing stock applications, it can be used for release of free-range chickens and almost any application that can be initiated by a mechanical switch or release.

Once trained, animals quickly learn to move themselves onto the next paddock. A series of Batt-Latch units can be set up increasing animal moves daily, enhancing grazing efficiency and saving farmers’ precious time.

How does it work?

Once you know how many animals will graze a given area and you have calculated how much dry matter per day is available for their needs, preset paddocks can be established in sequence. Batt-Latch devices are placed to secure the gate of each paddock. Once the timer completes its cycle the latch opens, releasing the gate, allowing animals to walk into the new paddock. Animals will learn quickly and will move themselves as many times a day as the Batt-Latches are set, increasing forage efficiency and animal gain..

This way, farmers can have time to do other chores without worrying that animals won’t have enough to graze. This video, by David Nortunen at Hidden Vue Farm in northern WI, shows how the process works.

With a Batt-Latch device, livestock producers have the convenience of relying on an electronic device to automatically move cows to the next pasture. It can be set up the same morning or the day before.

What doesn’t it do?

There is no electronic device that can monitor pasture’s growth and development and make management decisions for the grazing farmer. For that reason, farmers still need to walk their pastures in order to keep the best sense of their animals’ and forage availability. A Batt-Latch will be very good at doing what is programmed to do: opening the gate at the pre-set time.

Have you explored different successful forage management ideas? You can share them dropping us a line at the UVM Pasture Program:

Juan Alvez (jalvez@uvm.edu); Kimberly Hagen (kimberly.hagen@uvm.edu) and, Jennifer Colby (jcolby@uvm.edu)

Developing Vermont’s Swine Industry

Posted: June 27th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

Snug Valley Farm's Ben Notterman and the Pasture Program's Jenn Colby.

Snug Valley Farm’s Ben Notterman and the Pasture Program’s Jenn Colby.

Great news to announce! The Pasture Program was a recent recipient of a Working Lands Enterprise Grant focused on support and expansion of profitable, environmentally beneficial and well-managed swine production.  This partnership with NOFA-VT will work on creating greater connection between existing experienced and new swine producers at all sizes and stages of growth; offering educational opportunities for producers to learn more about swine nutrition, health, housing, and value-added products; and developing further tools and options to help future expansion be successful.

To learn more about the 2014 Working Lands Enterprise Board Entrepreneur and Service Provider awards, click here.

Some of the farm partners we are very excited to continue working with are the Nottermans.  Helm, Nancy, and their son Ben (right) selling grass-fed Holstein beef and pastured pigs.  In the past three years, their pork business has grown by 900% and represent a new wave of Vermont farms using a direct-market approach to bring high quality meats to restaurants and farmers’ markets.

Pastured pigs at Snug Valley Farm

Pastured pigs at Snug Valley Farm

To learn more about the Nottermans’ Snug Valley Farm, see their Across the Fence television program from 2013, featuring Michigan State Swine Specialist Dale Rozeboom, or read this article about them in On Pasture.

The project will really get rolling in July, but if you are a swine producer (or know someone who is), feel free to visit the Pasture Program’s swine page to learn more, or contact Jenn Colby.  One of our first orders of business will be to gather a database of as many interested folks as possible for targeted outreach and educational events.


Pasture management: Rhizobia and Nitrogen

Posted: May 28th, 2014 by VT Pasture Network

Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator, Center for Sustainable Agriculture – UVM Extension

Nitrogen is undisputedly, one of the most important macronutrients for plant growth, and a process invented by Haber-Bosh (Image 1) made it possible to produce nitrogen out of “thin air” and bag it to be applied in farm fields. Manufacturing fertilizer via Haber-Bosch requires vast amounts of energy (up to 3,600 psi of pressure and up to 1,022 ̊F). This is required to sever the nitrogen triple bond and combine it with hydrogen to form ammonia.


Image 1. Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch

You must be speculating how plants did to obtain nitrogen before this ambitiously engineered process was invented. If you thought ‘germs or microbes’ have anything to do with it, you got it very close. Although, you certainly remember your mom asking you to wash your hands (to avoid contamination with germs) before dinner. Microbes can also be great allies!

Soils also have many allies. For example, a soil bacterium genus Rhizobia, synergistically associates with legume roots to form a mutually beneficial partnership where rhizobia infects legume roots looking for the necessary energy (stored in plant sugars or carbohydrates). In return, rhizobia is able to sequester nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it available to plants for free. This is equivalent to having a nitrogen factory right in you farm!

To obtain this benefit, if specific soil bacteria is not present in the soil, it is necessary to inoculate legume seeds. Each legume seed has its own preferred rhizobia (e.g.: Clovers like “Rhizobium trifolii”).

The inoculation process

Rhizobium nodule Vicia_sepium

Image 2. Symbiosis between rhizobia and legumes roots cause pinkish nodules. Rhizobia benefits from sugars exudated by roots. Plants absorb nitrogen captureed and processed by rhizobia.

To inoculate, proceed by placing legume seeds in a bucket in the case of small quantities, or in a flat surface (it could be a swiped barn floor or on a tarp). In a clean container, mix warm water with inoculant and sugar to activate the rhizobium. Sugar will provide the stickiness to glue inoculant and seed. Next form a mound with the legume seeds. Open a “hole” in the middle of the seed mound and slowly start pouring the warm sweet gooey mix of rhizobia inoculant. Gently mix it with a shovel. Lastly, sprinkle lime over the mound until seeds get a whitish dry coat. This will also prevent the gooey stickiness from being transferred into the seeder forming clumps. When the mix is dry and loose, seed it. For more information, check this factsheet.

In general, establishing forage species can be as simple as broadcasting them in a pasture strip (by hand or with a spreader) just before animals are to be moved to a new strip or pasture. Use animals to briefly walk around the strip or paddock to promote seed-to-soil soil contact to stimulate better germination rates. This is the most inexpensive way to get legumes and nitrogen in your pastures however, be aware that rates of germination could be lower than when compared to no-till or tilling methods.

A good way to determine whether your legumes are infected with good nitrogen-fixing bacteria is to dig its roots to find round “pinkish” nodules (Image 2). Inoculated legumes will show a darker green color compared to non-inoculated ones, indicating the presence of nitrogen fixing bacteria.

The Haber-Bosh process granted its inventors two Nobel Prices, and was arguably one of the highest contributions to humanity in the last 200 years because, it enabled the production of nitrogen fertilizer which helped increased food production, allowing population to rise to a current 7 billion.

Rhizobia on the other hand, naturally fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil at a room temperature and everyday pressure. It is by no means a simple process and it is free.

Have you explored different successful forage management ideas? You can share them dropping us a line at the UVM Pasture Program:

Juan Alvez (jalvez@uvm.edu); Kimberly Hagen (kimberly.hagen@uvm.edu) and, Jennifer Colby (jcolby@uvm.edu)

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