|Maine Grass Farmers Network Offers Shared-Use Equipment
The Maine Grass Farmers Network (MGFN), a cooperative effort of University of Maine Cooperative Extension and MOFGA, has received funds to purchase machinery for shared use by Maine farmers to improve nutrient management, pasture productivity and overall performance of grazing animals. This equipment will be available for MGFN members who attend an equipment training session and pay a $25 maintenance fee. To become a member or to sign up for a training session, contact Gabe Clark at (207) 340-0098 or[email protected].
The new equipment, provided by the USDA Conservation Innovation Grants program, includes a manure spreader and a no-till drill. No-till drills improve the desirable species in pastures without expensive tillage and reseeding practices. This equipment can also help farmers improve old, neglected pastures though good soil and manure management.
At the equipment training sessions, MGFN coordinators will cover proper use and calibration, and how to apply best management practices when using the equipment. A training is tentatively scheduled for August 31.
Information about MFGN is available atwww.umaine.edu/umext/mgfn/.
by Diane Schivera
The price of grain has risen sharply in the past year and probably will not be going down, so now we have to manage livestock on the least amount of purchased grain possible.
Among the many factors affecting the amount of grain a farmer must purchase is the species of livestock being raised. Monogastric animals (those with a single stomach) need more grain in their diet because their physiology doesn’t enable them to survive solely on forages—i.e., their stomach can’t digest forage well enough.
Pigs can use a wider range of feed sources than other species, and when allowed to forage in an area with a good supply of roots, they consume much less grain. Also, whey is a great feed for pigs that are raised near cheesemakers.
Fortunately, chickens are most efficient at converting grain to meat. While they can’t use as much forage or roots as pigs, they are still very valuable for renovating pastures, loosening thatch and breaking up manure. Keeping pasture plants about 3 inches tall encourages chickens to consume more.
The genetics of the species raised will affect the animals’ ability to survive on forages. Heritage breeds of all livestock, which have not been bred with such emphasis on high production, will grow better on pasture. This is particularly true with dairy cows. High-producing breeds of dairy animals cannot survive without some concentrated energy source. Note that this says energy source. Cows require only 16.5% protein in their diet. According to Darrell Emmick, NRCS grazing specialist from New York, growers who produce quality, high protein forages don’t need to feed protein in the barn or in the concentrate mix. Corn or barley grains are good feed supplements to provide energy in the barn.
Some dairy farmers are breeding and managing their herds to eliminate grain feeding over a few years. For example, the Christiansons in northern Wisconsin (which has about a month longer pasture season than Maine) extend the growing season with turnips and oats. They also graze taller plants to increase dietary fiber and improve protein digestion. The cows produce 50 pounds of milk daily throughout most of their lactation. (Source: Acres, May 2008)
The newly publicized ideas of tall grass grazing and mob stocking (or ultra-high stock density – UHSD) have a new proponent in Joel Salatin, who wrote about the practices in the May 2008 Acres. Grazing taller grasses gives bovines a more balanced diet, and UHSD mimics natural movements of grazing animals, in which big groups heavily graze an area while depositing a lot of manure and applying more hoof action to aerate soil and incorporate manure. When tall grass grazing and mob stocking are combined, individual paddocks are grazed less often. Also, the increased root growth from taller grasses leaves more organic matter in the soil when the roots die after forages are harvested.
After considering the species and genetics of animals, improving pastures and using them effectively is the easiest, least costly way to reduce grain consumption. Dr. Paul Detloff, DVM, who spoke at a MOFGA livestock health care workshop in April, said that “the importance of growing highly mineralized, hi brix [a measurement of sugar content], solid stem forages cannot be over-emphasized for animal health.” Quality feeds come from well-balanced soils, which start with the proper pH and adequate calcium, because these soil properties improve the availability of other nutrients that plants need. (See the sidebar for sources of lime.)
Long-time New Zealand grazier Vaughn Jones has a Web site (accessible for $20/year) with valuable information, good graphics and pictures, and many spreadsheets for calculating soil nutrients and expenses. (Jones believes that using the Web site is more effective and less expensive than publishing a book.)
When reducing or eliminating grains in the livestock diet, don’t forget to add minerals. Loose minerals are best, since they’re more available than blocks. Kelp is also a great micromineral supplement, especially in winter. (Many farmers who feed grains to animals do not supplement with minerals, assuming that the grains provide adequate minerals. Reducing grain inputs will increase the requirement for mineral supplements.)
One way to supply the energy and protein needs of most livestock, even poultry, is to plant a mixture of oats and peas in the spring for late summer feed or in midsummer for late fall pasture. The later planting could also be harvested and dried on a small scale for winter feed. Some dairy farmers have luck harvesting this combination for silage or balage, but this requires good drying days.
Many brassicas yield forages that are high in protein (30% is possible) and in energy and that can extend the grazing season. A few types are being grown in Maine, and one seed source is Newman Gamage (622-5009), who sells Agriculver and King Agri seed. Two turnip varieties – ‘Pasja’ hybrid and ‘Barkland’ – are available, primarily for late fall pasturing. ‘Dwarf Essex’ rape is the most readily available, least expensive brassica seed in Maine, states Laughlin Titus of Agriculver Seeds.
The small seeds of brassicas are planted at 0.5 to 2 pounds per acre, either no-till or spun into existing pasture. Both methods require good soil-to-seed contact, so don’t seed into a thick thatch. Brassicas can also be seeded into tilled ground with a cover crop in preparation for reseeding the next year and can be grazed in late fall, from 80 to 150 days after seeding, depending on the species.
Brassicas offer great potential and flexibility for improving livestock carrying capacity from August through November or December, depending on snow cover. Spring-seeded brassicas boost forage supply in late summer, and summer-seeded brassicas extend the grazing season in late fall and early winter. For more information, see www.ampacseed.com/brassicas1.htm.
Brassica feeding will affect the flavor of milk and meat, so limit consumption to 20 to 30% of feed. Feed brassicas to dairy animals (once the animals are no longer being milked for the season) for a limited period each day, depending on the population of brassicas relative to other pasture plants – typically for a couple of hours each day.
Among the many studies done on these crops is the 1985-86 “Forage Brassicas for Grazing,” initiated by the Maine Sheep Breeders Association (MSBA) and funded in part by MOFGA. Some participants are still active in Maine agriculture, including Chris Jones, now at NRCS; Tom Settlemire with MSBA; and Bruce Hoskins at the University of Maine Soil Testing Lab in Orono. The study concluded that animals’ needs and brassicas’ values should be matched. Grazing larger flocks probably resulted in more efficient and complete utilization of brassicas. However, that does not mean that growers with smaller flocks could not have incomes above expenses. The fact that all growers who had positive net incomes purchased less grain indicates that, where possible, brassicas should be planted to be available for grazing when, otherwise, the more expensive grain would need to be fed.
Further experience with brassicas in Maine may provide information on other possible benefits, such as improved lambing rates and saving labor from not having to feed hay and grain during the brassica grazing periods. These could make some of the net negative incomes positive.
All growers in the study responded favorably about brassicas’ palatability and ease of growing, and they reported that animals stayed in good condition while grazing brassicas. It is rare to ask for comments on a commodity and receive nothing but favorable responses, but that was the case in this study.
The Maine Farm Planning Guide shows that many crops lose money. In that respect brassicas compare favorably economically: About half the growers usually profit after only one or two years of experience. Most likely, as growers learn to manage brassicas more effectively to realize their full value and as other benefits become apparent, most, if not all, will have favorable net incomes from growing brassicas. (Contact me if you would like a copy of this study.)
Mangels (or ‘Eckendorf’ mangel) are a good winter feed for livestock. They can be stored in the ground under mulch or in a space such as a root cellar, where they won’t freeze. Two seed sources are rareseeds.com/seeds/Beetroot/Mammoth-Red-Mangel and Shumway (‘Golden’ and ‘Long Colossal Red’ mangel), www.rhshumway.com. Plant seeds early in the spring, 1 inch apart and 1 1/2 inches deep. Cultivate frequently. Begin thinning when plants are 3 inches high and continue until roots stand 10 inches apart. One ounce plants 100 feet. Don’t feed until mangels have been stored for a month. Be careful not to overfeed rams, because mangels can cause urinary calculi. Combine mangels with hay in the diet to limit feeding—although the work required to eat mangels probably limits their consumption. I’d appreciate hearing from anyone with experience in feeding this crop.
Although not a brassica, chicory can be planted in the spring for summer grazing and is a very good source of feed.
Timing is a management factor that can reduce or eliminate grain consumption. For example, managing sheep to lamb on pasture in May enables ewes to eat quality forages when they need them most, for milk production. Feeder lambs and future ewes also grow and gain on inexpensive pasture. Good shepherding is required to save quality hay to flush the ewes in December. This is the same as freshening cows in spring to make the most use of the flush of pasture. Janet McNally, a shepherd in Hinkley, Minnesota, said at the N.Y. Grasstravaganza in 2008 that her animals are lambed on pasture. To increase the lambs’ gains in the fall, she plants turnips. The lambs are brought back to the grass pasture 10 days before slaughter to protect the meat flavor. Nanney Kennedy of Meadowcroft Farm in Washington, Maine, also raises sheep without purchasing any grain (see the feature on Meadowcroft in this paper), as do Paula and Sumner Roberts of Swanville, Maine.
Many studies and articles about reducing grain purchases date back to the late 1980s and to the ‘90s and include SARE studies done in Maine on growing brassicas, with favorable reports; and an article in Countryside (March/April 1987) on growing a goat garden. Reducing off-farm inputs and improving farm production is a continuing study. Rick Kersbergen and Laughlin Titus are studying no-till seeding of turnips, for example; and it’s important to read old references and keep an open mind about new ideas.
Diane Schivera is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can contact her with your questions at 568-4142 or [email protected].
|Maine Wholesale Lime Sources – 2008 Season
Last update: 12 May, 2008
|Vendor/Broker||Location||Product||bulk ?||bags ?||% Ca||% Mg||CaCO3-equivalence (total neutralizing value)|
|St John NB||Magnesium lime
|County Lime, LTD
|Saint-Andre NB||Magnesium lime
|Havelock NB||Calcium lime
|Presque Isle ME||Calcium lime||yes||no
|Northeast Ag Sales
Pelletized Ca lime
|Oldcastle Stone Products
|Lee MA||Magnesium lime||yes||yes
|Green Mountain Fertilizers
Paris Farmers Union
|many points in ME||Pelletized Ca lime||yes
|Knights Feed Store
|Augusta, Richmond, Litchfield ME|
|Cavendish AgriServices||Presque Isle ME||207-768-5791|
|County Lime, LTD||Saint-Andre NB||506-473-1512|
|DASCO||Presque Isle ME||207-764-7717|
|Tom Fitzpatrick||Houlton ME||207-532-9464|
|Bob Higgins||Charleston ME||207-285-3404|
|Ken Irving||Clinton ME||207-426-8537|
|Maine Potato Growers||Presque Isle ME||207-764-3131|
|Maple Grove Trucking||Ft. Fairfield ME||207-472-4011|
|Northeast Ag Sales||Detroit ME||800-462-7672|
|Note on fall lime orders: Due to extreme demand for road salt, many lime haulers will be dedicated exclusively to salt deliveries to municipalities throughout the fall and will not be available to deliver lime. For fall lime applications, be sure to have your lime delivered before the end of August!|