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Last Field Day of the 2012 Season: Managing Pasture-Based Farming During Drought

The fount of knowledge that flowed from Altfrid Krusenbaum’s lips in two and a half hours was staggering. Delivered with a casual, down-to-earth and generous demeanor, the CRAFT farmers in attendance soaked up Altfrid’s counsel on a brisk day in early October at Krusen Grass Farms in Elkhorn, Wisconsin

The CRAFT Field Day opened with Altfrid backgrounding us in the operations of a seasonal pasture-based dairy farm—a rarity in his field, as most dairy farmers choose the constant cash flow that accompanies year-round calving. However, at Krusen Grass the clear beginning and ending of tasks that seasonality brings with it, as well as the synchronicity of matching milk flow with the spring flush of grass growth, are ample reasons to tackle the challenge of fluctuations in cash flow.

As we loaded onto the wagon for a tour of the 340-acre farm, 220 are in pasture, divided into 47 paddocks of approximately 4 acres in size, Altfrid sketched for us a few of the key principles of pasture-based dairying in a “normal” season. He talked about “managed grazing” as distinct from “rotational grazing” in that the former is based on real-time assessments of the quality of the pastures and weather conditions, as opposed to adhering to a pre-determined schedule for rotating the animals through the paddocks. Altfrid explained the nutritional needs of cattle, how to calculate the amount of dry matter needed by the herd given the pasture conditions and the residual pasture necessary after grazing, and the importance of resting the pasture—all the while building up the “grazing wedge” across the entire farm.

Giving an in-depth and appropriately stern counsel to the beginning farmers in attendance on planning for every year as a drought year, Altfrid listed four must-dos when it comes to drought and responsible farm planning: 1) keep good financial records, so that you know what it costs to feed your animals and how much it costs to produce a hundredweight of milk, 2) don’t stress your pastures from overgrazing, which can compound problems if the next season is one of drought, 3) keep open communication with your lender, talking to him/her well before you need additional financial services, and 4) keep a balance sheet of the farm business and send it to your financial lender once a year.

Aside from sharing with us a wealth of specifics on pasture-based dairy farming, we also got to see the dairy herd, we learned about the grass-fed beef enterprise and heard how pigs are used to compost the bedded manure pack when the cows come out of the barn and into the pastures each spring.

This event was one of many field days organized by the Upper-Midwest CRAFT Network. If you would like to attend future CRAFT field days and receive weekly updates about farming in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin, join CRAFT!