Carrollton farmer strives to find the right grazing balance

CARROLLTON, Ohio — A man on a mission: Protect the environment and earn a profit off a beef cattle herd on his farm.

That’s how some would describe Cliff Miller, a man who retired from Republic Steel but is finding no down time in his golden years.

Retirement begins

Miller retired in 2001, but didn’t wait long to find a new passion.

He became interested in rotational grazing for his cattle herd and went to work constructing fences around his property. He started out building barbed wire and then moved to high tensile. Now he uses mesh wire with electric supplied to keep the cattle in the rotation’s paddocks.

Eight years later, the fencing project is complete and he is on to another phase.

Water supply

Miller wanted to make the rotations better by ensuring there was an adequate water supply. He was constantly rearranging the pastures so the cattle could get to a creek. So his next step was to apply for a Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, grant, which are cost-share funds available from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The money was used to install waterlines across the property so the cattle can get water from a trough instead of the creek.

Story Continues Below Photos (click on photo to read identification)

Green pastures

Miller now has a total of 90 acres, with 59 of them in grass. He is not making any hay from the land, and is relying on the combination of orchard grass, clover and fescue to feed his herd.

Miller says his rotational grazing program is a work in progress and he is constantly tinkering with it so that he comes closer to his goals every year.

He starts stockpiling pasture in July and will go to Nov. 15.

“Hopefully, it will grow by then,” Miller said about the rotating pastures.

The environmental steward is feeding approximately one-third of an acre a day to his 21 cattle. The herd includes two yearling heifers, 18 calves and one bull, which will be introduced to the herd this month.

Next goal

One goal is to have no tractor startup in the winter, no need for hay, minimum mud and the best conservation techniques to conserve soil.

“We want to put some of the carbon we have taken out of the soil back in,” Miller added.

He said the idea of rotational grazing is not hard to understand. It’s conserving the soil and grasses while ensuring your cattle get enough nutrients and bring a profit in the end.

Difficulties confronted

The problem is getting the number of cattle in proportion to the number of acres available, and the growth stage of the grass.

“If there isn’t enough grass, then you have to decrease the number of animals,” Miller said.

He does have plans this year to purchase three weeks of hay in theory, but he is hoping he won’t have to do that next year. Miller said if it does come to purchasing hay then the herd size would have to be cut.

Miller said his cattle can handle between 4 and 6 inches of snow and cold temperatures because they will find the grass under the snow.

But additional snow and subzero temperatures can create the need for hay for the animals, which is what happened last January when the Ohio Valley experienced colder-than-normal temperatures in the middle of the month.

Miller said the combination of hills and valleys on his property makes rotational grazing a good idea.

“I’m lucky enough to have both the hills and valleys. Some people aren’t,” he added. The hills and valleys help water drainage and in the winter the valleys help give the cattle a break from the winter wind.

Moving cattle

The cattle producer added that some pastures require more frequent movement of the cattle, depending on what type of grasses are in it, the size of the paddock, and what the weather is doing.

Most of his pastures require moving the cattle once a day.

“Just listen to them, they will tell you,” Miller said.

He said it typically takes him 35 days to get through a rotation on his property.

“You have to take care not to let the grass get too low in one pasture,” Miler said.

He follows a method of taking half and leaving half to ensure the grass regenerates quickly. In addition, many of the carbohydrates the cattle are looking for in their diet are in the top half of the leafy grass.

In addition, Miller feeds a basic mineral supplement to the cattle. He said they consume between 2 and 3 ounces a day of magnesium sulfate.

Advice given

Miller said there is one piece of advice he would give to anyone beginning a rotational grazing program: Build your grass before you begin worrying about the cattle.

Miller said the grass is what ensures success because once it has the necessary nutrients, it will take care of the cattle.

Miller’s mission continues as a farmer and caretaker for the environment and it is far from over. He serves on the board for the Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District and he often encourages other farmers to learn how they, too, can earn a profit and take care of the land.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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