Part-time farmer turns forest into full-time rotational grazing career

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QUAKER CITY, Ohio – As Andy Fadorsen stands high atop one of the many rolling hills on his 600-acre farm, he has a hard time believing that just eight years ago, it was all a sea of thick underbrush and tall, dense trees.

Now when he’s at the crest of that same knoll, the only thing around him are sloping hills, steep valleys and his beef calves grazing in the now virtually treeless pasture.

On his farm in southern Guernsey County, Ohio, Fadorsen raises approximately 400 stocker calves. His signature farming practice is intensive rotational grazing.

His farm will be a stop on the county’s Farm City Day Oct. 6 and part of the Eastern Ohio Grassland Conference Oct. 10-11 (see related article for details).

Weekend getaway. Back in 1973, when Fadorsen, 65, and his wife, Emily, lived and worked in Columbus, they considered finding a weekend home in the country. They thought a few acres would be a nice weekend escape from their city jobs – Emily’s job as a teacher and Fadorsen’s job making signs.

They hired a real estate agent to help them in their search, and the agent showed them 155 acres in small-town Quaker City.

Although it was a much larger plot than they had planned, it was a good deal and it wasn’t long before it was theirs.

The Fadorsens had no idea what they were going to do with all the acreage at their weekend home, especially since it was a mass of thick, overgrown forest and brush.

Although Fadorsen had been raised in Guernsey County and his grandparents had some cattle, farming was not his life-long dream. It was just something that “fell into [his] hands,” he says, and he willingly took on the new task and grew to love it.

The couple spent 22 years as weekend farmers, heading east on Fridays and returning to Columbus on Sundays. Finally in 1995, they both retired, built a new house to replace the old farm house and moved to the farm permanently.

Stocker calves. Prior to moving to their weekend property, the Fadorsens had already became intermeshed in the stocker industry. Fadorsen uses the distinction that stocker calves are 700 pounds or less and feeder calves are more than 700 pounds.

What started out as six calves in the 1970s when they bought the farm, later turned into a productive stocker farm practicing intensive rotational grazing.

Back when they were weekend farmers, this was the perfect niche for them because it was lower maintenance than other farming practices. They didn’t need to hire help to do chores throughout the week; the calves were out in the field and got their own food by grazing.

Clearing out. After the Fadorsens’ move to the country, they began clearing the land for pasture. Fadorsen, Emily and their three sons did much of the work themselves, pulling out bushes and trees.

Bulldozers then came in and others were hired to finish the job. The hundreds of tree stumps that were sanded to the ground during the clearing are now barely visible in the pastures.

Except for several clusters of trees in the steeper areas, all the once barely-passable land is now used for pasture. And Fadorsen never even had to reseed the soil.

The alfalfa and different types of grass and clover came up on their own. Fadorsen said that one time in one small field he planted some alfalfa – in the 1980s, and hasn’t done anything else since.

“That drew all the deer in the country here,” he laughed.

Paddocks. Deer are probably his biggest problem, Fadorsen said. They have the potential to take down fences, which would inevitably mean that the cows would be loose. He has learned to keep the power on at all times because the deer have been known to tear the fences out of the ground.

And there are many fences that could be taken down – especially since the 600-acre farm is split into 70 paddocks used for rotational grazing.

The calves are rotated every one to four days, depending on the size of the paddock, number of cattle and composition of the pasture.

Paddock size can range anywhere from one acre to 50, and the number of calves in each depends on the season. In the summer, some of the larger paddocks hold up to 200 calves, but in the winter, Fadorsen splits them into smaller groups.

This is because he supplements their grazing in the winter with grain. He said if he goes into a 200-head paddock with grain, he gets bombarded with hungry calves, so it’s easier to deal with smaller groups.

When the paddocks are out of rotation, he mows and rakes them and hires someone to make large, round bales.

Although Fadorsen has the potential to run 200-300 more calves on his land, he does not have the means to make enough hay for that many head.

Feeding time. Other than free choice mineral, the calves are only pasture-fed except in the winter.

Because Fadorsen stockpiles forages, he can go until January or February without feeding hay. Even when the ground is covered with snow, the calves bury their noses and mouths into the ground to get the grass.

There is water in all the paddocks, either by gravity or pressurization from a pond, one of the many springs or from a water trough.

Unlike many other types of farmers, Fadorsen’s least busy season is the summer because this is when the cows are only pasture-fed.

Nevertheless, Fadorsen still has a hectic time of year and that is in the fall. This is when Fadorsen starts spending more time in the sale barn, buying new stockers. After bringing them home, he vaccinates, worms and tags them before turning them out to the pasture.

New niche. Fadorsen particularly became interested in intensive rotational grazing around 1992 when a neighbor had a field day on the subject. He continued to search more information on the topic by going to conferences around the United States and buying books.

In the beginning when the Fadorsens only had six calves, there wasn’t enough grass on the entire original 155 acres to feed them; however, he now feeds more than 400 off the land, with the potential to feed several hundred more.

The Fadorsens have also gone to several of Jim Gerrish’s intensive grazing schools. Gerrish is a leading grass expert at the University of Missouri, Fadorsen said.

Moving on. In addition they have attended three-day schools focused on moving cattle easily and effectively.

One of the key tips that Fadorsen has picked up is to learn the animal’s flight zone and then stay out of it so the cow doesn’t run. Through years of experience and information from the schools, Fadorsen has learned to move the cows without yelling and physical contact, which are sources of stress for the animals.

The cattle are so used to moving that he said he can move 200 head to another paddock in under 10 minutes – and he usually doesn’t even have to get out of his truck.

Occasionally Emily and a neighbor have had to block traffic on a nearby road so Fadorsen could walk the animals a mile and a half down the road to another paddock.

In addition to attending schools and seminars, Fadorsen is involved with many agriculture associations. He is the supervisor of Guernsey Soil and Water Conservation District, director of the county Farm Bureau, director of Ohio Forage and Grassland Association, director of Guernsey Noble Feeder Calf and a member of Guernsey County and Ohio Cattlemen’s Associations.

Nowadays when Fadorsen stands atop the highest hill and looks at the rolling land surrounding him, he said he is most proud of succeeding in the farming venture “that fell into [his] hands.”

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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