Pasa’s Dairy Grazing Project Manager Lucas Waybright shares his notes from a recent field day, highlighting the ingenuity and adaptability required for grazing animals on pasture.
Happening soon: Join Lucas at Painterland Farms for a special two-day intensive on Regenerative Grazing with Ian Mitchell Innes May 18–19.
Infrastructure Workshop & Pasture Rest Trial at Ben Blank’s Farm
This April I organized a field day for our Dairy Grazing Project—a collaborative effort led by Pasa to help dairy farmers improve, expand, or begin grazing.
Farmer Eli Mack of Mack Farms and Kencove Fence Supplies shared his expertise with our crowd of 40+ dairy farmers at Benuel Blank‘s farm in York County, Pennsylvania.
Eli discussed grazing infrastructure, including moveable fencing and watering. Both of these systems are critical for success in rotational grazing. Since graziers are regularly monitoring their pastures, they need flexible equipment that allows them to quickly adapt in response to the needs of the herd and the land.
“When it comes to building a grazing system to meet your farm’s goals, the main limiting factors are your willingness to be creative within your context and use your ingenuity,” Eli said as we wrapped up.
I got to see some of that grazier ingenuity in action after the event, when I spent a little extra time with our host Ben Blank, who grazes 35 milking cows and some heifers rotationally through his 80+ acre farm.
Ben told me about an experiment he is conducting.
He has a steep 4 acre pasture along his driveway.
The last graze on this field was in November of 2022. Ben plans on only grazing 2 of the 4 acres in this field once in August of this year, and leaving the other 2 acres to be ungrazed until spring 2024—creating an extra long rest period (a full growing season plus two winters).
Inspired by Allen Williams‘ principles of adaptive management, which includes purposeful disruptions to the land to enhance natural cycles, Ben’s curious about how the diversity and ratios of plants will change in a pasture with a long and an extra-long rest period.
We walked the field together, and I wrote down all of the plant species we observed from most frequent to least.
Notes from Benuel Blank’s in Farm Delta, PA (York County) taken April 20, 2023
This field was last seeded in 2020 with orchard grass, clovers, and alfalfa using a no-till drill.
Plant species observed:
- Bluegrass (observed most frequent)
- Shepherd’s Purse (frequent)
- Orchard Grass (some)
- White Clover (some)
- Chickweed (some)
- Dandelion (some)
- Red Clover (little)
- Alfalfa (little)
- Buttercup (little)
- Aster (occasional)
- Tumbleweed (occasional)
- Broadleaf Plantain (occasional)
- Violets (occasional)
- [unidentified grass 1] — appeared to be rhizome-based (occasional)
- Bull Thistle (occasional)
- Fescue (occasional)
- Curly Dock (occasional)
- Henbit (occasional)
- [unidentified grass 2] — appeared lush and desirable (occasional)
Ben included a caveat that seeing out the extra-long rest period for this pasture experiment is somewhat dependent on what kind of summer we have. If it’s a dry year, and grazeable acreage is at a premium, he might have to graze it. When it comes down to it, the goal of the experiment is to improve the health of the herd, so that adaptability to the conditions remains key.
But if all goes well, I plan to do this plant survey again after Ben grazes his herd on part of this pasture this August, and on the full 4 acres next spring.
Stay tuned for updates and insights from this farmer-led field research!
Want to improve the health of your herd, soil, and community?
Whether you’re an experienced grazier seeking a better price for your milk, a conventional farmer only beginning to think about how grazing might support your operation, or fall anywhere in between, Dairy Grazing Project can help.
Visit dairygrazingproject.org to learn more.
Dairy Grazing Project Partners
Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, Center for Dairy Excellence, Ephrata National Bank, Mad Agriculture, Origin Milk Company, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, Rodale Institute, and TeamAg. This project is supported by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.