2/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Troy Bishopp New York Correspondent
LATHAM, N.Y. — The power duo of Morgan Hartman and Tom Gallagher have done it again.
The beef grazier and Extension educator continue to dial in the right combination of presenters, sponsors and vendors to pack the house with farmers eager to learn and taste the fruits from local farms at their two-day Winter Green-Up Grass-Fed Grazing Conference.
The fifth annual event was held Friday, Jan. 25, at The Century House in Latham.
The lineup of topics that filled the Century House Ballroom included custom grazing, grazing management, grass-fed genetics, animal and human health, pasture lambing and a look at some top-flight cows making their own legacy.
Jeremy Engh, who owns and operates Lakota Ranch and runs the all forage/grazing Lakota Bull Test in Remington, Va., described in detail the genetic selection process he follows in addition to managing more than 1,000 acres of grazing land.
Since the Lakota Devon genetic pool of 1,750 animals is the premier breeder in the country, those in attendance could relate to his experiences and knowledge.
Citing studies showing that the average beef cow only produces four calves before being culled and that annual feed costs account for 63 percent of all production costs, Engh said, “The efficiency of cows and the production of good forage are paramount. We strive to create a cow that will have a calf every year, wean a calf 60 percent of her own bodyweight and have it finished out in 18 to 24 months.”
Engh treated the audience to a visual bonanza of correct cows and bulls while discussing their attributes and relating them back to the teachings of founding beef breeders of the past century, William Fream, Jan Bonsma and Robert Bakewell.
His keys to increasing profitability are to knock out the “props” that mask natural adaptability, select animals that thrive in your environment with low inputs, and move toward maximum use and management of cool- and warm-season forages.
“The grass-fed business lacks inventory. We’re all on the same team with literally no competition and still can’t fill the need,” he said. “We market over 2,000 head per year, but could sell five times this and not even touch the overall need for grass-finished cattle,” Engh said.
Paul and Phyllis VanAmburgh, certified organic dairy producers from Dharma Lea Farm in Sharon Springs, N.Y., continued the discussion of genetic prowess and how high butterfat milk was putting over three pounds of daily gain on calves without any grain for the cow. They were very passionate about epigenetics (the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the DNA sequence) and how their environment, management and selection process to regulate gene expression are consistently producing the kind of cow families they want.
The ever-popular Jerry Brunetti, soil and crop consultant for Agri-Dynamics Inc., introduced the audience to romancing the rhizosphere and getting in touch with the nectar of the roots by vertically farming from the soil down.
“We should be root farmers because microbes drive the bus of fertility,” Brunetti said.
During the rapid-fire lecture, he delved into nutrient management, decay management, water management and soil management, sprinkled with deliberations on silvopasture, hedgerow importance and accumulating plants that self-medicate grazing livestock.
Brunetti also captivated many with the story of how he beat cancer and his path of nutrition, detoxification and immune modulation which he linked to healthy soil, nutrient-dense foods and sustainable farming practices.
Hartman’s Black Queen Angus beef took center stage on the dinner plates with an added bonus: For every entrée served at the event, The Century House shared a meal with a person in need through the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
“Their caring is why we appreciate working with them for this venue,” said Gallagher, the Albany County Extension agriculture program leader.
Saturday’s grazing extravaganza featured Steve Kenyon, a holistic management rancher, educator, custom year-round grazier and frequent Stockman Grass Farmer magazine contributor from Saskatchewan, Canada, and tatiana Stanton, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s small ruminant specialist.
Kenyon, who owns Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd., showcased why he is a popular presenter by using his quick wit, pictures and a very comprehensive look at his 2,000-head, 4,000-acre grazing operation to inform graziers of all the nuances of land management.
He broke down his business into three parts: human resources in dealing with 24 landowners, customers, suppliers, truckers and the cows, kids and insect “employees”; economics and finance in breaking out profit centers by using gross margin analysis; and production practices associated with year-round grazing management.
“Human resources are always the first priority and have veto power over everything,” Kenyon said. “Quality-of-life decisions are an integral part of our success.”
He treated the group to innovative grazing cell designs, winter watering and fencing ideas and bale grazing strategies to improve fertility.
Stanton gave a hands-on look at the benefits of pasture lambing and kidding. She showcased a three-year project where 30 Northeast sheep and goat farmers tried different birthing systems. She discussed considerations in choosing a birthing pasture, fencing, shelter, set stocking or drift lambing, planning for inclement weather, predation, mothering issues, parasitism, handling birthing problems and management checks.
“This year’s program and networking were outstanding. I can’t wait to apply the knowledge I’ve learned this upcoming grazing season,” said Lee Benedict, farm manager from Stone Broke Farms in Warnerville, N.Y.
The conference was sponsored by New York State Crop Insurance Education Program/USDA Risk Management Agency, New York State Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County and Black Queen Angus Farm with support from The Carrot Project, Farm Credit East, Weston A. Price Foundation, New York Angus Association, Animal Welfare Approved, Gensworth Insurance, Eat From Farms, Cunningham Fence, The American Herbataurus Society, William’s Fence of Central New York, Agri-Dynamics, Hudson Solar, NYCAMH, Fox Hill Farm, Merial Animal Health, Skyview Fencing and Pole Barns, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, New York Beef Industry Council and the Northeast Livestock Processing Service Co.