Grazing is the key at Dry Creek Valley Farm

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GRANVILLE, Ohio – A century farm has adapted to managed intensive grazing in order to prosper.
Tom Maxwell is the owner/operator of Dry Creek Valley Farm near Granville, Ohio. It began as a general farm having dairy, sheep, hogs and chickens. There was a four year rotation of corn, wheat or oats and two years of hay.
In 1967, beef cows were added. In 1996, the 180-acre farm was converted to grass and hay to support its cow/calf operation
For the past 10 years no fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides have been used on the farm. Nor has Maxwell used antibiotics or growth hormones on the livestock.
Organic. Unofficially, he is an organic beef producer. However, at this point the farmer doesn’t feel the cost of certification is worth it to him. He said if you develop your own market, it won’t matter to your customers if you are certified.
“Rotational grazing has made farming so much simpler for me. I enjoy it as I check the herd at least once a day,” he said.
He has used funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for spring development and fencing out of a stream and woods.
“By doing intensive grazing I am more aware of what the pastures are doing. Now, I try hard not to let the grass get eaten into the ground,” he said. “As long as you don’t let the cattle graze it too short, you should have enough pasture for them in the future.”
During 2002 there was a local drought.
“Many of my neighbors with cattle (on conventional pastures) had to feed hay that summer. I had 16 days of feed left when it started to rain again, then my pasture shot back up,” he said.
Diversity. Since Maxwell began dividing up his pastures, he has noticed more diversity in the forage, especially with the introduction of more clover. He feels his available forage is continually evolving.
With the smaller lots, the manure is distributed more evenly.
The land has needed some lime, but not nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorous for 10 years, according to soil tests.
Once your paddocks are set up, the most time consuming element of moving the cattle, is relocating the water tank, Maxwell said. The cattle are eager to move to fresh grass and do not need to be chased.
Overall herd health has improved with the intensive grazing system.
This year Maxwell has divided some of the longer narrow paddocks by making them more square in shape. He said this helps the cattle use the whole space.
Paddocks. Maxwell currently has 29 paddocks to graze. The cows were not fed any hay until Jan. 10 this year – quite an improvement from having to start feeding hay early in November as in years past.
His 40 Red Angus influenced cows are turned out to pasture each year April 1, which is also the start of the calving season.
Cows that don’t calve in the first 42 days are sold after the calf is weaned. Replacement heifers are selected from calves born before April 21.
Cross fence weaning is implemented when the calves are 7 months old. For three days, the calves are kept in a paddock which has two strands of electric wire between them and the cows.
Maxwell notices it is much quieter than in years past, there is less sickness and all animals stay on the diet they are accustomed to.
The system. He keeps about two-thirds of the calves after weaning and uses a leader-follower system which allows the younger animals to have the better forage first, then the dry cows get the leftovers the next day.
When selecting for bulls, Maxwell’s criteria include sires that have depth of body, a masculine appearance and a frame score of four. He also chooses bulls that excel in maintenance energy level expected progeny difference.
In 1998 he was using a Black Angus bull which sired some red calves. He noticed the red-hided cattle would often be out grazing while the black-hided cattle would remain by the water tank during the 90-degree days.
Maxwell now prefers the red-hair coat, as he expects his cattle to continue to graze in the heat.
In 2002, raising grass-fed beef was initiated on the farm. He likes to have his steers finish around 1,000 pounds live weight, which is generally at 2 years old.
His goal is to have them finish at 18 months, which is why he is breeding the cows to smaller framed bulls.
“The marbling has to be in the meat or the consumer won’t enjoy it and they won’t come back to buy,” Maxwell said.
Marketing. He added marketing is the biggest aspect of selling direct and unfortunately, the farmer admitted that’s his weakest point right now.
In 2002, he sold one grass finished steer through direct marketing and this year has sold 10.
When asked why he raises cattle he replied, “Because I love it, I guess. This is something I can do in my retirement and still make some money at it. I want this (operation) to make money. If I have to put money into it then I will quit.”
Maxwell’s son and grandson are starting to show interest in the herd, which makes the farmer hopeful for the farm’s future.

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