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How My Grazing Plan Helped When Everything Went Wrong

By   /  January 7, 2019  /  6 Comments

Troy has been sharing how he extends his grazing season every year thanks to charting his management. But this fall Mother Nature threw him a big curve with rain 28 days out of 40 and a killing frost that came a month late. Here’s how he made it through.

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“The pencil is mightier than the pen,”
Robert M. Pirsig, of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

“If I’d written my plan in pen, I would have been in trouble!”
Troy Bishopp, the Grass Whisperer

 

Back on September 10th, I asked “Can You Be A Grazing Soothsayer?” and described how I was going to use my observations and my intuition to build my grazing plan through the fall. Then I proceeded to take my pencil and plan out my stockpile grazing activities through December 7th on the trusty old grazing. You can see the pencil plan here:

October to December Grazing Chart

As the 61 head of 780 pound organic dairy heifers grazed over our 92 acres, I highlighted the actual grazing periods. If you remember I was going to try to lightly graze the first round of stockpile in hopes of regrowth and then have a good second grazing to get me to my goal.

First day of grazing stockpile

The plan was altered almost immediately by something my plan couldn’t have predicted. On October 1st it started to rain, cold rain.

October 1st and we’re still looking ok.

As Forrest Gump put it, “We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain, and big ol’ fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath”. We got a deluge of over 2.3 inches and had to move the heifers more quickly to prevent pugging and muddy feet over the pristine forage. Then Hurricane Florence rolled through 6 days later and we lost a few days of the plan. It rained 28 days out of the next 40 and we didn’t see a killing frost until an astonishing November 11th (Oct. 10th is normal). Northeast farmers know exactly what I’m talking about.

What I was leaving behind me which was not exactly ideal:

The forage was so lush, those darn cows took more than I anticipated (duh!) and the wet weather made for more waste. Even though it was wet, our forage plan was still in the ballpark. And after 15 or so days, you’re thinking it will probably dry out and be a nice fall. Nope. By the last scheduled grazing rotation, I was behind a week and it was getting colder and the forage left didn’t have much energy. So I was feeling and seeing the proverbial “wall”.

October 25th The day of my organic inspection with rain taking its toll on the land and my nerves:

On October 25th, I had my organic inspection which couldn’t have come at a better time. Having another set of independent eyes looking over the plan and seeing it on the ground helped with decision making. Inspector Joshua and I had a great walk looking at the future grass we’d have left and he was very pleased with the pregnant dairy heifer’s body condition. It was this visit where I made the call to order 30 dry round bales as a backup plan cause around here you never know when the weather goes really rogue.

November 4th, still doing ok despite the rain:

By November 4th, my grazing chart and measured inventory was telling me I was 7 to 10 days off the plan. The tools don’t lie! It was a good time to have a conversation with my grazing customer to alert him of my situation and set up a plan for loading out. He appreciated the heads-up and the real-time pictures so he could make trucking arrangements. It was on this day that I had to admit that I had failed to meet my objective. It also meant that I would have to tell you, the farmer/reader, I had this problem and how I was managing it.

On November 6th, the sun finally came out and I was there on our pinnacle to take my best picture of the year. I saw how the plan worked given the difficulties. Extra feed was being delivered that day. I could see the end. I was at peace with my decision-making. I was ready to go out smiling.

On November 6th this scene helped me cope with all my decisions and believe that things would all work out:

Veteran’s day we saw our first snow. Heifers grazing through it is no problem:

With succulent forage left and the November 23rd load out date planned, I decided to take Jim Gerrish’s flawless advice and use the opportunity to feed and fertilize the remaining paddocks with some rolled out hay as I moved the cows. That extra dry matter put some bloom on the heifers and heat in their bellies.

Then, November 23rd they left for Pennsylvania to become the next organic dairy mothers. Here’s the last day of grazing before they loaded.

You could say I missed my grazing goal by 14 days and you’d be right. I can tell you this stockpile season, I lost $1,400 by having to have a back-up feed strategy, but that back up feed became future soil health. We can all imagine what it might have been IF it didn’t rain continuously, and given the rain, we might say my new grazing strategy may not have been the wisest thing.

But what if I had no plan, what would it have looked like? My grazing plan and my constant observations of what was happening in the pasture helped me make adjustments that was good for the grass and the heifers. It’s this experience that I’ll take with me when I try something a little different again. It’s the try that matters most.

The final grazing chart with its imperfections:

As we move into 2019, isn’t experience always the best teacher? Sharing these and other real stories is why we are connected through On Pasture. I welcome more sharing from others.

Happy New Year!

GW

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About the author

contributor

Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” is a seasoned grazier and grasslands advocate who owns, manages and linger-grazes at Bishopp Family Farm in Deansboro, NY with his understanding wife, daughters, grandchildren and parents. Their certified organic custom grazing operation raise dairy heifers, grass-finished beef and backgrounds feeder cattle on 180 acres of owned and leased pastures. Troy also mentors farmers on holistic land management for the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist. This award-winning free-lance writer, essayist and photographer maintains a website presence at www.thegrasswhisperer.com

6 Comments

  1. Doug says:

    Great article. I am in Ky. in the fescue belt. Been doing IRG for about 7 seven years now.
    Cow /calf operation….. the more that I do this I find if I move them quicker ….the longer my season will last. Flash grazing if you will.
    I have my farm fenced to where I can rotate them thru it all in about 40 days. If i don’t need all those 40 days then i will just leave it out or clip it. i like to see a lot left in the paddock when I move them.
    The first year that i started….I rotated them thru the whole farm about every 21 days(cause I didn’t know any better) and I was able to graze all the way to the middle of Febuary. When I started slowing down my rotation I found it difficult to get that far again. Short grass grows slow.

  2. Dave Morgan says:

    I wanted to let you know Troy that your grazing chart approach scales down for my MMIG program. That’s not a typo, I do MIcro-Managed Intensive Grazing. We keep a small herd (10-15) of small cattle (Dexters) on our small (10ac) farm. Hence, MMIG. I used the chart for the first time this year and learned alot about my pastures productivity at different times of the season. I still need to bring the chart in from the barn and ponder over it to squeeze out the details, but I know its going to make me a little less optimistic when planning out 2-4 weeks in advance.

  3. Bruce Howlett says:

    You did well to lose only 14 days of planned grazing. In central VT we lost about a month because that first snow was enough to deeply bury the remaining stockpile and then it stuck around. The grazing plan was working fine until it abruptly became irrelevant. So we’re buying feed for April again this year.
    Bruce
    Bobolink Farm, E Montpelier

    • The Grass Whisperer says:

      I’m sorry you were under the stress as well. Tongue and cheek, you didn’t have to eat a little bit of crow for writing about it 🙂 Thanks for sharing GW

  4. Just Farmers says:

    My dad used to say to me (about my gardening and farming experiments), “Don’t you ever write about your failures?” Thanks for sharing your experiences. The photos are superb in showing what is/was going on.

    I was thinking of composing a poem about your experiences (and mine) and thought of a wonderful way of capturing the essence: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” Alas, someone beat me to that phrasing.

    • The Grass Whisperer says:

      A big thank you for recognizing that we don’t talk about our real-life experiences enough. And that it was worth it for me to spend some time and action to share with others. I went a bit negative initially as a failure, however the ever-positive Miss Voth edited out my misgivings and highlighted the learning. I guess that’s why she is running the show. 😉 Thank you GW

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