1/18/2014 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
HARRINGTON, Del. — Delmarva farmers got a crash course in using creative ways to improve grazing operations during this week’s Delaware Ag Week.
Ag Week is several days of lectures, demonstrations and talks held every year at the Delaware State Fair grounds in Harrington. Programs included lectures on growing new crops, fighting invasive pests and growing sweeter watermelons, among others.
Part of this year’s program was Tuesday’s Delmarva Hay and Pasture Conference.
Farmers were urged to observe and adjust their operations to do what works best for them. Rather than accepting typical ways of doing things, they were told to consider alternative grazing times, different types of grasses to extend grazing seasons, managing pasture for better re-growth of grasses, alternative fencing ideas and other efforts to find what works best for their operation.
Don Wild, a retired NRCS grazing specialist for western New York and owner of Wild Acres Family Farm, said many of the ideas he suggested to the packed room of farmers are just common sense.
As an example, he said some farmers may want to consider grazing animals in the early morning and late afternoon or evening, while keeping them inside during the stressful heat of the day.
That might mean dramatically changing milking and sleep schedules, but it might work for some operations.
“The animals work for you. You don’t work for them,” he said. “They are your employees . . . You do what fits your schedule.”
He suggested that farmers consider flexible fencing options so that temporary fencing can be used to change pasture areas and keep fresh grass available when needed. He said some grazing planners may insist on permanent fencing.
His advice to farmers in those instances is to “challenge the planners” and ask why it has to be done that way.
He remembered visiting one farm with drainage problems. The standard practice was to remove topsoil and then install cloth and gravel to improve drainage. But the farmer had instead left the topsoil and put the cloth and gravel on top of the soil.
“We looked at each other and said, he did it wrong,’” he remembered. But since it worked for that farm, it really wasn’t the wrong answer, he added.
He offered some ideas on how to improve production with a minimum amount of cost and effort. He said livestock shouldn’t have to walk too far to reach a water source and suggested that adding a second water source will keep animals from crowding together and competing for water. It will also help better distribute manure to help fertilize pastures.
He also suggested farmers not overfeed animals before turning them out to graze. If they do so, then the animals aren’t hungry and are just wasting their time outside, he said.
Wild said older farmers can sometimes be more reluctant to try new things because they are afraid of failure or aren’t familiar with some newer farming practices.
“If the mindset is that it won’t work, then it probably won’t work,” he said.
While he urged farmers to be innovative, he also said farmers should avoid cutting some corners because to do so would be “penny wise” and “dollar foolish.”
“A lot of this stuff doesn’t cost much money,” he said. “A lot of this stuff is a no-brainer.”
When it comes to cost assistance, he said farmers have to decide how much independence they want in their operation.
He said sometimes he thinks “that I could have the best grazing system in New York if I took advantage of all the financial programs.”
That would mean dealing with more bureaucracy, more red tape and less autonomy.
Doing it his way, “I don’t have to answer to somebody else,” he said.