As I was asking the non-technical folks in our office what they thought I should write about this time there was a definite focus on the quality issues surrounding our food.
Also, concerns about how farmers and their products are perceived.
They “actually read the labels” on many of the food items they buy. Some are getting very good information and some have no idea what the label is really referring to.
How does this relate to management intensive grazing?
Well, if we could put a label on our products it could say something like “farm fresh, raised on pure grasses and legumes, fresh air and clean water”.
No artificial additives included or needed because our livestock are harvesting the natural forages produced by plants capturing sunlight and through the process of photosynthesis they are able to harvest forages grown on land that is not well suited for producing other crops.
As farmers, we are getting better at producing the forages, setting up the grazing systems, protecting the water quality, balancing the number of livestock with the carrying capacity of our operations and the general production side of agriculture.
Educating our friends
On the other hand, we are still by and large not doing a very good job of educating our friends and neighbors about the good quality, locally grown food that is right in their back yard.
How much fresher could the meat and eggs be, than buying from a neighbor?
Building the relationship and sharing the knowledge of what goes into the production of our animals and other products would go a long way in educating the public in what is real in agriculture and would help them understand the labels that they are reading.
Opportunities to share
We could open up local, value-added markets by taking the time to explain why we are keeping the livestock on the pasture fields and moving them as often as possible.
We could share our efforts in providing clean fresh water to our livestock while also helping to improve the water quality that flows across, and off of, our farms.
We could explain the terminology that is totally foreign to many that did not grow up on a farm and some that did.
We could emphasize the fact that we are growing plants and animals to harvest and not use other terms relating to the termination of our livestock.
We could do lots of things but the real question is what are we doing or are we willing to do?
The local Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil & Water Conservation Districts or OSU Extension office staff can work with you on the production and quality end of your operation but we all need to work on the communication end so that the people who are working beside us have a better understanding of what we are doing.
And, how the things we are doing impact the quality of the food that we are producing and that people could ultimately consume.
Now would be a good time to apply lime if your soil test requires it. Remember that lime is slow to react in the soil so what you apply now will benefit you next spring. You can reseed the less productive areas either with a frost seeding this winter or as a regular seeding next spring.
Many of you should have a good supply of forage you’ve stockpiled over the past several weeks.
Just as you wouldn’t turn animals loose in a barn with stored hay, you shouldn’t give them access to all of the stockpiled forage if you want to feed it efficiently.
Most animals will eat 2-3 percent of their body weight per day. I suggest setting up a strand or two of poly wire to control the amount of pasture accessible to animals.
Depending on how often you can move the fence, I suggest setting up a few paddocks, starting the first paddock near the water source.
Set up the second paddock so you only have to open the gate in the first fence, or take it down, and move it to make the third paddock.
You can now leap frog the fence in this manner because you don’t need to worry about back fencing the basically dormant pasture.
Livestock can use the ever-increasing size of the field to access the water system until you get to the point that another water source is closer.
Feeding some hay now will help extend the grazing season and help keep the animals rotating through the pasture fields as long as possible.
Instead of locking the animals on a heavy use pad until the soils turn too soft for grazing, the animals spread manure and seeds for you!
Think of your livestock as four-legged walking manure spreaders and you are controlling where the manure is spread by the location of the fence, water system and mineral location.
Depending on when you plan for livestock birthing in the winter or spring, you will want to save a clean area of pasture as near the house or barn as possible.
This way you can keep an eye on the animals and give them the best available field with the least amount of manure, so they have as healthy a start possible.
If you plan to shut the animals on a heavy use pad during birthing, clean the pad just prior to the estimated first birth.
Watch for runoff
When cleaning the pad, be careful not to spread the manure in an area that could cause polluted runoff to leave your farm.
Spread manure on the highest and driest sod covered field. Stockpile the manure if the fields are not suitable for spreading yet, then spread the manure on a more suitable day before spring growth starts.
Watch for days in February or March when you can make your frost seeding to thicken up the stand’s weak areas with more desirable plants. Check perimeter fences throughout the winter and make necessary repairs.
Fallen tree limbs and moving wildlife can damage fences at any time but the winter months seem especially damaging.
It is also a good time to trim back brush and low limbs that impede trimming around the fence line.
You should make any other changes you observed during the past summer on a sunny winter day so that when the grass begins growing in the spring you’ll be ready to start grazing.
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