January 23rd-24th was the 19th annual North Central Ohio Dairy Grazing Conference hosted in the Mt. Hope Event Center. It was my first time attending, but to any grazer, I would highly recommend attending in 2021. The conference had a nice balance of sessions and time to visit the various vendors.
Quality speakers are the foundation of successful events, and the planning committee chose excellent ones. The first Thursday session, “Maximizing Returns Through Soil Health/ Adaptive Grazing” with Kent Solberg dove into some best management practices. Solberg began the session noting that grazing has the potential to be mutually beneficial to the soil, forages, livestock, and farmer.
Working backwards through those points, the farmer is responsible for determining where, what, and how long the cattle will graze. Maintaining and moving fence, observing forage growth and maturity, estimating dry matter availability, and ensuring livestock health all rest on the farmer and require “boots on the ground.”
When livestock are managed well, they in turn become “assistant managers” of the pasture. The top portion of plants are the most palatable and nutritious, which maximize animal production. If rotated daily through smaller paddocks, livestock are more likely to graze only the top portion at a uniform height (leaving the plants’ regrowth reserves intact) and more evenly distribute their manure benefitting forages.
Plants grazed right after boot stage have the ideal balance of crude protein and energy. Multiple-species pastures including grasses, legumes, and broadleaves have the potential to provide steady growth throughout the grazing season. Varying root structures help maintain a healthy soil profile. Mixed pastures also attract and work with soil microbes and beneficial insects, increasing soil health.
Healthy soil should be roughly 25% air, 25% water, 45% mineral, and 5% organic matter by volume. This is naturally maintained if agricultural practices do not abuse the grazing system. While the other factors all trickle down to feeding it, soil is really the anchor. Successful farmers need efficient livestock consuming productive and quality feeds which grow best in healthy soils. A soil test may reflect the overall farm health.
Solberg stressed the problems with overgrazing. He suggests excessive time in a paddock, rather than simply stocking density, results in overgrazing. Of course, the two are directly related to the amount of pasture consumed and/or trampled but increasing or limiting animals/acre is a management tool. High stocking densities for short periods of time can be used to trample (incorporate) weedy or overly mature plants back into the soil. Excessive time in either high or low density can lead to localized compaction (i.e. shaded areas), selective plant species removal, and low-grazed forages will struggle to regrow.
The second speaker, Dave Brennan, DVM, discussed the importance of producing quality milk. Milking preparation and bedding environment have the greatest influence on udder health. Farmers must not only strive for quality milk, but Dr. Brennan added that the public (consumers) are watching more than ever. While our practices might be perfectly logical and sound, we must realize that many consumers have no farm background and cannot be expected to fully understand the industry how’s and why’s. We ultimately cannot change peoples’ minds, but we can be more intentional in showing them that we are indeed doing our very best to provide safe, healthy, and ethically raised food products. We must be proactive, not reactive.
That mindset applies to milking practices as well. Properly preparing cows includes removing excessive debris (if present) from the teats, pre-dip, fore-strip, dry, then apply the unit. Remove shortly after milk flow drops to only 2-3 lbs/minute. Leaving 1-1.5 cups (just under a pound) of milk in the udder is recommended to avoid teat end damage from vacuum. Finish with an approved post-dip.
Proper management of any bedding system can be successful. The keys are maintaining dry and comfortable spaces appropriate for herd size. A good system results in clean and healthy cows without requiring excessive inputs.
Maintaining the milking system is also crucial. Even as “the most frequently used piece of equipment” on your farm, said Brennan, it is “commonly the least tested and maintained.” Change hoses, seals, inflations, etc. at the recommended intervals. Waiting until the milk report indicates an issue still incurs replacement costs and maybe mastitis or teat damage, a visit from your field rep. or penalties on the milk check.
For those interested, the 2020 Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference is March 3rd-4th at Ohio Northern University. Call our office: 330-264-8722 or visit the website: ctc.osu.edu for more information. Registration ends March 1st.
Matthew Nussbaum is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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