October 27th the small town of Harrisburg, Missouri was invaded with over 200 people from 19 states. Every parking space in town was filled with cars that had mostly out of state plates. Needless to say the locals wondered what the big buzz was about that had taken over their town. The Lions Hall was packed and additional chairs and tables had to be set up to accommodate the walk-ins. Ian Mitchell-Innes led off the seminar with a dynamic talk on the social, financial, and environmental benefits of high density grazing. I explained the high density grazing results that we have encountered in the last two years since changing over to the new management system. Ian followed up with an additional presentation of the basics of setting up a high density grazing system. After lunch was served the huge caravan of vehicles proceeded to the Judy Farms for an afternoon of pasture walks. The classroom presentations that morning were taped and will be available to buy at greenpasturesfarm.net.
The first stop was at a leased farm that had been mob grazed last year and was used this year to graze stockers on. Graze to trample ratios were explained along with a paddock move showing the simplicity of daily moves with portable water tank, reels and tread-in posts. Next the whole group walked up a gravel road 1/8th mile to the hair sheep farm. The gravel road was solid packed with people, looked like there was an army invasion coming. Greg explained the management of the hairsheep and the development of the parasite resistant flock. Lot’s of excellent questions were asked concerning the economics, management, forage, wintering, predator protection, fencing issues, marketing, of the hairsheep.
Next the caravan proceeded 1 mile down the road to the farm that was stocked at 368,000 lbs per acre with cow/calf pairs. The group witnessed the mob being moved onto a fresh strip of grass and next we examined the graze to trample ratio of the grazed paddock, manure distribution, plant species, tire tank watering system and many other topics. Again many great questions came from the crowd. Ian commented that he had never been on a pasture walk that showed so much enthusiasm from that large of a group of people.
The final stop of the day was on the Judy farm, where we were grazing bred heifers and Tamworth pigs. The Tamworths are a truly remarkable hog that can fatten on grass and clover pastures alone. The Judy farm was grazed the whole growing season with custom grazed bred cows at a density of 500,000 lbs/acre. The pastures had fully grown back with only 1.5” of rain since June 28th. The energy that the mob injects into the soils is unbelievable, massive amounts of forage replenished with very little moisture and no purchased fertilizer. The diversity of the grasses on the Judy farm have exploded since being mob grazed. Pasture pugging issues, watering systems, rest periods, custom grazing were explained with the heavy stocked densities.
On a personal note, Ian walked all of our farms with me before the seminar. He gave me lots of invaluable tips to help us along on our high density grazing journey. That evening I asked Ian what he thought about our operation as a whole. Ian made a comment to me that floored me. He commented that what we were doing was not sustainable! It was like somebody dropped a brick on my head. Ian proceeded to explain his statement. He said that with three separate grazing systems being managed at once, that we would eventually burn ourselves out with the constant workload required by them. Man did I need to hear that.
We had a million reasons why we were running three herds. Some of the reasons included:
Well what we were effectively doing was grazing in three spots at the same time, bad decision. The results from this bad decision were shorter rest periods, less animal impact, three times the work load. These farms are 3-5 miles apart and the hauling bill that we envisioned getting the large herd to the next farm gave us nightmares. Ian calmly explained that cows have legs that are built for walking, let them walk, why go through the expense of hauling them.
The very next day after the seminar was over we combined all three herds into one large herd. The immediate work load was cut by two thirds! Our rest periods increased two thirds. The very next evening Jan and I took a leisurely horse back ride around the farm instead of running from one farm to the next moving wires for three separate herds! From this day forward, all custom grazed cows will be added to our owned mob and grazed as one mob. One of the comments Ian made was that we as humans tend to over complicate everything that we do, I can sure identify with that remark.
In the future we will grow more grass, better grass, more animal impact, our soil microbes will explode, our ground litter accumulation will benefit, our water catchments will increase and our labor has been slashed dramatically. We now have a life. We have time to think, monitor results and time for leisure. We no longer have the issue of getting burned out with something that we both have a tremendous amount of passion for and dearly love. That one single decision to combine our herds has already paid huge dividends. Jan and I now have time for each other, wow what a wonderful life! Thanks Ian for dropping the brick on our head!