Monday, November 28, 2011

Grazing Resources

From time to time I run across some amazing resources and breadth of grazing experience shared by farmers who are also excellent writers.  Dave Forgey is one of these people whom we all can learn from.

As the days grow darker and you all think about professional development readings for next season...check this out:

Dave Forgey's farm web site & writing

And...I hope you enjoy this photo from earlier in the summer.  Don't forget you can use your livestock to manage those pesky weeds!  Feel free to contact the Pasture Program to learn more about how to implement this simple process.

Teaching cows to eat weeds at Windhorse Farm in East Hardwick, VT

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tillage Radishes & Pasture Compaction

Coming up next week, a highlight of the Pasture Program project on reducing compaction in pastures using practical, inexpensive methods.   One aspect of the project has been assessing keyline plowing.  The other method has been the use of tillage radishes.  Tillage radishes, a variation of the daikon radish, have been tested for use addressing compaction on cropped land.  Using them to address compaction in pastures is a new application.

If you'd like a sneak preview, check out this field-recorded video:

Tillage radish YouTube link

To watch the segment in its entirety, please watch 'Across the Fence' on WCAX-TV, Channel 3 at 12:10 on Nov. 8.  The full-length program will also be archived on the UVM Extension website:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Water Quality on a VT Grass-Based Farm

Farmer Eric Noel in Highgate shared these videos with us.  His land is located in the Rock River watershed, one of the priority areas affecting Lake Champlain.  Water from about 2,500 acres surrounding him drains through his farm.  Eric believes very strongly in grazing to protect water quality, and here's video documentation of why he feels that grazing and clean water are a natural fit.  By the way, if you'd like to learn a little more about happenings on Eric's farm, check out the July "dart throwing" post.

First, a shot of Eric's farm and the water from his runoff.  He raises beef and does custom pasturing of other farms' cows on his 100% grazing farm.  He practices mob stocking and a holistic planned grazing system.

Second, a shot of the runoff from Eric's farm and another grazing farm (the water coming from the right) and the runoff from a dairy farm with a roughly 1/2 hay, 1/2 cropping system.

Finally, a shot of the water coming from the mixture of the two grazing farms and the dairy on the right, and the runoff  from a crops-only farm on the left.  Note that what was "dirty" in the second video is now what looks "clean" in this video.

We in the VT Pasture Network appreciate all kinds of farms, and we are here to help them create improved water quality through grazing and good pasture management.

Give us a call at (802) 656-0858, email or visit

Monday, September 19, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Free soil testing of flooded fields

The Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab at the University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science is assisting commercial farmers in Vermont with assessment of post-flood soil conditions in their fields.

Upon request, they will expedite the turn-around time on tests for both routine soil fertility and heavy metals, with results available in a matter of days. They offer heavy metals screening as an add-on to the routine fertility test as well as a heavy metals test similar to what an environmental lab would run. Choose the latter if your only concern is possible metal contamination. The heavy metal screening that accompanies the fertility test will inform you as whether or not a metals problem exists (the environmental test will give more precise concentrations).

Both tests are now being offered until October 15, 2011 at no charge to commercial Vermont farms for flooded fields only; please note on the soil questionnaire submitted with the sample that the soil is from a flooded field. The form is available at or call 802-656-3030.

For non-flooded fields and home garden plots, please refer to the website for regular turn-around times and price information for soil testing and other analyses.

In addition, UVM's Vern Grubinger and Don Ross have just released an information sheet called, "Intrepreting the Results of Soil Tests for Heavy Metals" -- it can be found at:

A forage handout with updated recommendations is currently being completed and will be shared as soon as it is final.

Be safe out there and PLEASE contact me if you need assistance in any way.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pasture Flooding Resources

I hope all of you out there are OK and that you and your animals have made it through without injury or worse...

I'm starting to get questions about how to handle stored feed, corn, pasture and hay that has been flooded.  Thankfully, there's an excellent resource from UVM Extension on the subject at: 

From the VT Agency of Ag press release about reporting damage.  You are also welcome to contact VGFA at my email address: or (802) 656-0858.  I will forward on reports, too.
If there is damage to any part of your property or business, including but not limited to barns, milking parlors, crops, fields, equipment, etc., this information should be reported to your county USDA Farm Service Agency or your county Natural Resources Conservation Services office; you can also contact organizations to which you belong such as the Vermont Farm Bureau at 802-434-5646 or NOFA Vermont 802-434-4122. These organizations should send a summary of the information to the Agency of Agriculture which will then forward to VEM. Farmers experiencing loss of crops due to flooding should contact their crop insurance agent immediately as well as USDA Farm Service Agency.

Farmers are encouraged to keep in touch with USDA Farm Service Agency at 802-658-2803 and Natural Resources Conservation Service at 802-951-6796.

Lastly, there are a number of resources about clean up and emergency recovery at the UVM Extension web site.

Be safe,


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

Darts R Us

I've been promising for some time to talk about our SARE Comprehensive Grazing Course.  It's a pretty cool project that I'm very excited to be part of.  Here's some text from an article I wrote about one recent training day, with photos:

What do a retired NY NRCS employee, a permaculture consultant and a U.S. Senator's staffer have in common?  Darts!  This is no smoky bar room game, but an opportunity to learn more about reading the farm's environmental landscape and monitor biological changes resulting from farm management decisions. For many natural resource and grazing planners, these ideas are leaping off the page into the pasture as part of a NESARE-funded regional comprehensive grazing course.

On this sunny day in Highgate, VT trainees from four states join lead trainer Troy Bishopp and VT training coordinator Jenn Colby at Maplewood Organics to try their hands at sizing paddocks, moving cows and throwing darts.  Host farmer Eric Noel has been using a planned grazing system for six years, focusing on high density animal impact and grazing the plants at a taller height to address his own farm and family goals.  Some of Noel's decisions mean his cows have cooler feet and greater comfort in the summer, nesting bobolinks have safe areas to raise their young, and the farm business is more profitable by using stockpiled pasture rather than purchasing stored feed.  As Noel describes, he tries to bring the animals to feed, or the animals to pasture, and "tries to eliminate starting the tractor."  His stockpiled feed strategy saved him nearly $1100 in 2010 feed costs.
After a morning session dedicated to understanding the farm's current grazing system and developing the "grazier's eye" regarding how large to make a new paddock for Maplewood's head of 150 mixed age cattle, the trainees debate the workings of the four ecosystem processes integrated throughout the farm.  Observing the water cycle, mineral cycle, energy cycle and community dynamics are ways to understand and identify areas where farming systems are working well and guide answers as to why they might not be.  Effective breakdown of manure and plant matter, well drained pastures and fields, a healthy mix of plants are all indicators of well-functioning systems. Today, some of the more experienced trainees have a lively discussion about the benefits of dying plant matter, "litter", to the health of the soil. 

Once the basics were established, participants break into subgroups to practice throwing darts and assessing what's down at the soil level.  Trainees are joined by additional Extension staff, a Holistic Management course trainee, and Jenny Nelson from US Senator Bernie Sanders' office.  Each group is assigned to a different pasture in order to collect baseline information that Eric Noel will be able to use in the future to understand whether his decisions are improving or degrading his farm.

Moving along a straight line, one person throws a dart.  The team hastens to see where the dart hit and fills out a worksheet detailing the type of material the dart hit, and spreads the plants apart around the dart to really look at what's going on.  They record percentage of bare soil, plant species, presence of worm holes, soil type and more.  This hands-on activity requires getting close to the soil and plants, and might lead to getting a little dirty.  These trainees loved it.  "I found more things going on than it looked like to the casual eye", says Bruce Howlett, a grazing planner with MA NRCS.  "I really enjoyed seeing all the worm activity", says Dan Hudson, UVM agronomist.

Ending the day with refreshing mint and strawberry ice cream from Strafford Organic Creamery, the trainees are enthusiastic about the next training session.  As part of the course, they are translating what they learn directly to farmers through a three-year intensive partnership.  What's next?  Whether throwing darts, driving posts, or discussing feed cost savings, we know there'll be a quiz on this.