On a blustery morning in January, grazing professionals from across the state gathered at the Blue Heron Brewpub in Marshfield. They congregated at the small-town pub for the Winter G-Team Meeting, a training on the Heifer Grazing Compass.
“The Heifer Grazing Compass is a very in-depth tool that can really boil a grazing system down to the nuts and bolts financially,” says Jacob Brey, farmer at Brey Cycle Farm. “After going through the compass exercise, I was really impressed by its attention to detail; it doesn’t leave any room for doubt if filled out correctly.”
The Heifer Grazing Compass is a free online tool that helps farmers answer the question: Is grazing heifers worth it?
“The Heifer Grazing Compass is a fantastic tool to use when the grazing specialist is in conversation with the dairy farmer,” says Amalia Priest, grazing specialist with Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development Council. “Farmers are often forced to focus on what brings in the most green at the end of the day, in paper and growing form! This resource helps crack down on the nitty-gritty numbers to give each individual a personalized monetary outlook for their heifer operations as they exist, as well as what those numbers could look like if they began grazing.”
As a preview to the compass, Grazing Outreach Specialist Jason Cavadini and State Grazing-Lands Specialist Adam Abel presented an introduction to raising heifers in Wisconsin. Cavadini and Abel were followed by a farmer panel, which included Brey, Ron Schoepp of Schoepp Farms, and Mike Redetzke of Peaceful Creek Acres.
The three Wisconsin farmers spoke to the room full of grazing planners, specialists, and technical service providers about why they chose to graze their heifers. Brey is hopeful.
“There seems to be quite a bit of positive momentum and interest from county agencies/NRCS/etc. in regards to the benefits of grazing,” he says. “There is a lot of untapped potential in the state and with a bit more exposure and education, grazing could become more widely adopted.”
After the farmer panel, Heifer Grazing Compass developers Jim Munsch and John Hendrickson debuted the tool. Speaking to a statewide network of grazing professionals, they had a rapt audience.
Priest was encouraged to hear about the resources available to continue promoting grazing as a sustainable practice.
“Grassland 2.0 has done an amazing job in creating the Heifer Grazing Compass to facilitate discussion and help ease minds when it comes to numbers,” she says.
Other grazing professionals dug into the details. Haly Schultz, private grazing planner, asked how the compass accounts for the use of a dairy’s existing heifer-raising facilities when a dairy decides to start grazing heifers instead. Munsch walked her through it.
“I was very surprised that the Heifer Grazing Compass’ answer is to simply leave the facilities empty and a farmer will still realize a cost savings,” says Schultz.
She recommends that the Heifer Grazing Compass be reviewed by mainstream ag lenders as a partial budgeting tool. Using the compass demonstrates that raising heifers using managed grazing results in savings of 25-50 percent per head per day during the grazing season as opposed to confinement. Grazing heifers can also result in labor savings of 50-75 percent during the grazing season.
Even with the clear economic benefits of grazing heifers, making a change can be difficult.
“It’s always easier to keep doing things the way they were done before,” says Brey. “Our main barrier [to transitioning to grazing] was just making the commitment to grazing by saying ‘yes’ and getting started. Once we made the decision to do it, we just moved ahead and made it happen.”
Priest and Schultz are two of the people in Wisconsin who help make that transition to grazing happen. With the help of tools like the Heifer Grazing Compass, they and other technical service providers are better equipped to create grazing plans that fit the needs of individual operations.
“The G-Team Meeting was a great place to connect on common grazing interests in the state,” says Priest. “While we already work very well together for the betterment of the soil, animals, and the people that care for them, connecting regularly gives us the chance to keep conversation current and discuss common issues and successes. Discussing and learning together is a great way to keep the grazing community close-knit.”
Download the Heifer Grazing Compass at: https://grasslandag.org/tools/