Grass farmers generate profits from pastures

Article written by Leigh Presley, Agriculture Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

For those who hate mowing the lawn, it hasn’t been a fun summer.

The abundant moisture has kept the mower blades running and my old tennis shoes tinged with green.

Though this growing season has proved challenging for many crops, we’ve had a good year for one that doesn’t get much recognition — grass.

Farmers who utilize pasture to graze their animals can appreciate the value of a good crop of grass — so much so that some even consider themselves grass farmers, though their actual product may be meat, milk or other animal products.

Grass farmers, also known as graziers, use a key practice to help their pastureland generate profits — rotational grazing.

Rotational grazing involves regularly moving livestock between subdivided portions, or paddocks, within a larger pasture.

Only one paddock is grazed at a time, while others are left to rest.

This resting period allows forage crops, including grasses and legumes, to regrow above ground and replenish rootstocks below ground.

How often livestock are moved can vary depending on the species and age of animals, the size of the paddock, time of year or forage conditions.

The resting period for forages might depend on their seasonal growth rates and weather conditions.

Management and resources

Rotational grazing sounds like a simple concept, but implementing a solid grazing plan requires shrewd management to maximize forage yield and quality and livestock production.

A grazing plan must take into consideration several factors, among them:

  • Access to water in each paddock.
  • Permanent and movable fencing in good repair and designed for efficient movement of livestock.
  • Forage production adequate to meet dietary needs and be available at critical times, especially during the mid-summer slump, when growth of cool-season forages slows down.
  • Livestock movement timed to prevent forages from being overgrazed.
  • Establishing and maintaining a herd that is well-suited to grazing.

Fortunately, there are several resources and networks available to help to begin and established grass farmers, including the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program, GrassWorks, local grazier groups and UW-Extension’s grazing resources website: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/grazres/.

Lower startup, input costs

Rotationally grazing livestock might not be the best option for every farm, but it does present opportunities for beginning farmers and those who seek to lower their input costs.

By having animals harvest most of their own feed, an operator can significantly reduce equipment, pesticide, fertilizer and labor costs.

Some farmers are also able to reduce costs of land ownership by grazing livestock on rented land, which in turn can help landowners who want to keep their property in agriculture.

Twilight Tour

You can learn about this way of farming at our upcoming Twilight Tour of KD Park and Starry Nights Farm.

The farm tour portion of this event will focus on how the Maggio family rotationally grazes cattle on 140 acres of pastureland.

The tour will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5. The cost is $15 per person and includes wood-fired pizza made with local ingredients by the Red Oak Restaurant and locally made beer and wine.

Registration is required at https://kenosha.extension.wisc.edu/twilight-tour.

For more information, contact UW-Extension Kenosha County at 262-857-1945.