Standing Tall: Spring Creek Farms Finds Grazing Niche

6/22/2013 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

WERNERSVILLE, Pa. — About 50 people climbed a winding hill that led to a series of pastures where Greg Stricker led a herd of dairy cows to a thick, green field to graze.

Nearby, his father, Forrest Stricker, talked about the nutritional benefits tall grasses provide their cows.

“The animals are more satisfied,” he said. “That’s a good feeling knowing that your animals are content.”

The Strickers recently hosted a field day event at Spring Creek Farms, their grass-based, certified organic dairy and poultry operation in Heidelberg Township, Berks County, Pa.

Spring Creek Farms — which has been in the Stricker family for five consecutive generations and received certified organic status in 1999 — milks roughly 140 cows and sells products including brown eggs, beef, chicken and raw milk.

The Strickers move their milking cows — which include Ayrshire, Holstein and Jersey breeds — to a fresh pasture about every 12 hours from spring through the end of the year. During winter months, they feed the herd hay grown on the farm.

“Our milk production has held.” Forrest Stricker said.

Greg Stricker said the dairy cows seem relaxed and happy.

“I like to see them laying down,” he said. “They do lay down in the morning after they graze.”

The field day event was presented by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Penn State Extension and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

The USDA ARS aims to find solutions to agricultural problems “from field to table,” according to the organization’s website. The group performed 800 research projects within 18 national programs, and includes 2,200 scientists, 6,200 other employees and more than 90 research facilities, the site states.

Additional topics discussed at the field day included ways to transition to high-density grazing, maintain forage quality and budget resources.

Penn State Extension-Berks County educator Mena Hautau and Kathy Soder of the USDA-ARS were at the event to provide information and answer questions.

In 2012, Penn State Extension-Berks County and USDA-ARS received a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, or SARE, grant to study area pasture-based dairy operations including Spring Creek Farms. The goal of the research project was to identify practices — used by dairy farmers who implement tall grazing as a primary feed routine — and create case studies, Hautau said.

“We are going back to the same paddock every time, so we have a little bit of control,” she said of collecting data and results from fields included in the research project.

Pasture management can be tailored to fit the individual farmer’s needs, Hautau said.

“There is a lot of variability among fields,” she said.

A dairy grazier can maintain tall pasture height, stock at an increased rate, manage milk quality and sustain production, according to Hautau.

Soder said findings from the study will help encourage funding for more projects to determine the effectiveness of tall grazing for dairy herds’ milk production and quality.

“We need data for more grants,” she said

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