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The Mid Atlantic Beef and Dairy Farmer a supplement to the Delmarva Farmer

Producers defy weather for grazing workshop

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

ELLETT VALLEY, Va. (May 23, 2017) — Nearly 60 beef cattle producers of all ages gathered at the Ellett Valley Beef Company here May 11 for a rotational grazing workshop that defied the elements efforts to keep them from learning about the foundations of their occupation.
Threatening weather forecasts pushed the meeting from the creek bottom to Guille “Gil” Yearwood’s barn on the farm where speakers shared information about several different topics. The weathermen were proven correct as the last speaker was concluding his talk. The group was pelted with rain as thunder rumbled in the distance. The meeting adjourned to the interior of the barn where food waited.
Yearwood hosted the event and shared information about his techniques for raising beef on pasture developed over the past 30 years.
The Skyline Soil and Water Conservation District was joined by the local Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices in providing information and speakers for this field day on the Yearwood farm just outside of Blacksburg in Montgomery County, Va.
“NRCS, FSA, Skyline SWCD and all of our other conservation partners are here to assist you,” Hunter Musser, NRCS District Conservationist and organizer of the program, told the group.  “Please don’t hesitate to contact us to set up field visits.”
“Where animals graze, wildlife thrive,” Andy Rosenberger, a private land biologist who serves as a consultant to conservation groups, told the group. He talked about wildlife habitats and the funds now available from NRCS to plant native grasses.
Participants were supplied with printed information about the major government covered by the speakers and offered to area farmers.
These include the following:
• Environmental Quality Incentives Program which offers three ways to help. These are addressing present resource concerns in pastureland, cropland and forest land; assisting with implementing the infrastructure to allow a transition to better grazing management with livestock water systems and fencing; and a wildlife initiative that will help farmers improve wildlife habitat on their farms.
• Conservation Stewardship Program. This program’s chief purpose is to assist producers that are already managing their operation at a high sustainability level and are willing to take the next steps.  It is aimed at people who through their own efforts or assistance from these agencies have installed infrastructure to make the operation more sustainable.  It provides incentives to continue the existing high level of management.
• Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program or CREP. This is for farmers willing to keep livestock out of streams and plant trees. It aims to help install alternative livestock waster systems.
Musser noted that Yearwood has used both CSP and EQIP programs on his farm.
“What they are doing with government money is really wonderful,” Yearwood said.
“Water is the key thing in making rotational grazing work,” Chris Barbour with Skyline SWCD told the group. 
He noted that 60 to 70 percent of cow’s body weight is water and in designing water systems to suit individual farm needs, he’s careful not to take water for granted.
“We realize how important water is to cows’ lives,” he stated. 
He urged his listeners to always think about the quality of their water and to work to have a water budget to see if the supply can handle the demand. He suggested making a water budget and keeping in mind that cattle need more water in the winter than in the summer. The dry forage they consume creates a need for the increased water.
Barbour said drilling wells is the activity they do the most.  Even though these can be used to reliably supply water most of the time, he stressed that the best policy is to plan for the worst.  He cited the derecho storm that hit the area a few years ago and caused prolonged power outages cutting off well-water supplies. He explained such emergencies can be handled by letting the livestock into streams normally closed to them. He also noted the fencing plans can be designed with stream crossings or access areas so the cattle have water available. 
He designs waterers with stabilizing aprons so livestock don’t just make a muddy mess around them and suggests stabilizing stream banks as well where alternative watering methods are planned for emergencies.
“Always have an emergency backup,” he said.
He added solar-powered pumps can be inconsistent and prefers submersible pumps.
Soils as well as water are important for forage growth, Jeannine Freyman with NRCS told the group.  She informed them every county in the nation has a soils map which is available to individuals who can learn about the soils on their own farms.
She discussed the correlation between soil health and rotational grazing, explaining how the grazing helps the soils support what is above ground as well as the life in the soils. 
Dr. Michael Flessner, a Virginia Tech Weed specialist, outlined some of the actions to take in controlling weeds and answered questions from the group. 
He pointed out that no herbicides are available to be safe for legumes which are recommended as a vital component for good pastures. Keeping weeds grazed down is one way to deal with them.