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Hasnolocks and the Three Pastures

By   /  May 5, 2014  /  1 Comment

You can lead a farmer to pasture but you can’t make him change. Which of these farmers are you? And do you have a reason to change your mind? (Thanks to Katharine Brainard for illustrating the story.)

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hasnolocksOnce upon a time, Hasnolocks (a distant relative of Goldilocks), a follicularly challenged man of grass in central New York State, was able to attend pasture walks on three different farms on three consecutive days.  Hasnolocks’ heart was overjoyed. For he remembers days gone by when pastured dairy cows were few and far between and he was viewed as a crazy man for telling people they could put their dairy cows back on pasture. Now after almost 30 years, there were enough pasture-based dairy farms in New York State that Hasnolocks was getting to attend three pasture walks in three days.

too short grassHowever, on arriving at the first farm, Hasnolocks’ heart was saddened.  For on this farm, he saw dairy cows walking around belly deep in headed out, stemmy, stalky, extremely low quality orchardgrass that the cows were trampling, peeing and pooping on, but mostly not eating. Although dismayed by what he saw, Hasnolocks attempted to explain to the farmer why having his cows in grass that tall was a waste of good grass and was causing him to spend way too much money on barn feeding his cows.  The farmer replied “I feed corn silage, haylage, and grain in the barn, and on this pasture, my cows make about 70 pounds of milk per cow per day.  What could possibly be wrong with that?”  Hasnolocks  tried to explain again.  He said “Sir, if your land was capable of producing 4-tons of dry matter per acre, with this style of management, you would be lucky to  harvest about 1-ton of it per acre.  In other words, you would be wasting 75% of what you had grown.  Would you be comfortable growing 4-acres of corn silage but only harvesting 1-acre of it?” In addition, most of the 70 pounds of milk your cows are producing is not coming from low cost pasture; it is coming from your high in cost barn ration.

SadHasnolocksThe farmer thought about this for a few seconds and replied.  I have plenty of land to harvest hay from and grow crops. I do not need to manage my pastures any better than what I do.”  Hasnolocks got in his car and drove away. For he knew that pastures that are tall and rank (forage heights greater than 10 to 12 inches) cause cows to decrease bite rate, take fewer bites, take longer to fill up, and produce less milk.  Hasnolocks also knew this man was right. Until a man finds his own reason to change his mind, he will not change his management.

too tall grassThe second pasture walk was on another dairy farm a county distant from the first. On arriving at this farm, Hasnolocks was again saddened.  For on this farm, he saw cows foraging among the thistles on grasses that were not even as tall as the stones in the field.   Although dismayed by what he saw, Hasnolocks attempted to explain to the farmer why having his cows in grass this short was a waste of good grass and was causing him to spend way too much money on barn feeding his cows.  The farmer replied “I feed corn silage, haylage, and grain in the barn, and on this pasture, my cows make about 70 pounds of milk per cow per day.  What could possibly be wrong with that?”  Hasnolocks tried to explain again.  He said “Sir, if your land was capable of producing 4-tons of dry matter per acre but with this style of management you only produce 1- ton per acre, you would be reducing your yield by 75%.  In other words, you would need 4-acres of land to produce the same amount of food you could produce on 1-acre if you applied better management.  In addition, most of the 70 pounds of milk your cows are producing is not coming from low cost pasture; it is coming from your high in cost barn ration.

The farmer thought about this for a few seconds and replied.  I have plenty of land to harvest hay from and grow crops. I do not need to manage my pastures any better than what I do.” Again, Hasnolocks got in his car and drove away.  For he knew that pastures that are low yielding and grazed to less than 2 inches cause cows to graze longer, walk further, reduce intake, and produce less milk.  Hasnolocks also knew this man was right. Until a man finds his own reason to change his mind, he will not change his management.

just right grassOn the ride to the last pasture walk, Hasnolocks’ heart was filled with dread.  After what he had observed on the first two farms, he was certain that his 30 years of research, teaching, and preaching had gone entirely unheeded. However, on arriving at the last farm, Hasnolocks’ heart was filled with joy.  For on this farm, right before his very eyes, he saw cows foraging in pastures consisting of grasses and clovers about 6 to 8 inches tall.  No pasture was grazed lower than 2 to 2.5 inches, and the cows received a fresh paddock after each milking.  When Hasnolocks asked the farmer how his cows were milking, he replied “I could not ask for more.  I feed only 6 pounds of high-moisture corn per cow per day plus minerals, and I provide them with all the high quality pasture they can eat.  My cows average about 70 pounds of milk per cow per day, and my barn feeding costs are practically nothing.  What could possibly be wrong with that?”

Hasnolocks replied, nothing. For he knew that well-managed pasture with the right mix of grasses and legumes and grazed with an appropriate strategy, is an excellent food for dairy cows that perhaps needs only be supplemented with a minimal amount of energy to maintain body condition and milk production.

hasnolocksWith a contented heart and a happy grin on his face, Hasnolocks got in his car and drove away, for he knew this man was right.  Until a man finds his own reason to change his mind, he will not change his management.

 

 

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About the author

Darrell began his career in grassland research and management in 1980 by walking across a plowed field in the rain to ask the farm manager of Cornell University’s Mount Pleasant Research Farm for a job. Although the farm manager had no funds that particular year for hiring summer help, Darrell was informed that there was a new pasture research project getting underway at Cornell’s Teaching and Research Center in Harford, NY, and they could likely use some help from a person willing to walk across a plowed field in the rain to ask for a job. Little did Darrell know that plodding through mud and rain would lead to 34 years of researching, promoting, and helping farmers implement grazing-based livestock production systems. Along the way, Darrell earned a Master’s degree in Resource Management and Ecology, a PhD in Range Science with a concentration in the foraging behavior and diet selection of herbivores, served as the pasture research manager at the Cornell University Hillside Pasture Research and Demonstration project, and after 26 years as the state grazing land management specialist with the USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service in New York State, has retired. While Darrell can still be found walking across plowed fields in the spring rain, with a turkey call in his jacket pocket and a 12 gauge shot gun cradled in the crook of his arm, which, by the way, was exactly what he was doing those 34 years ago when a job got in the way, he does prefer to talk grass and fish.

1 Comment

  1. Kristin says:

    I admit, right now I’m farmer #1. But the question is: What can I do about it? Clip it? We went from no grass to overmature grass in 2 weeks.

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