When Paul Daigle, an organizer in Grassland 2.0’s Cloverbelt Learning Hub and longtime grazing consultant, pulled into the parking lot at Shell Lake Community Center, it was overflowing. And he was 20 minutes early. Daigle drove to the northwest reaches of the state to attend the annual Fall Grazing Conference put on by Northwest Wisconsin Graziers Network.
The small-town hall filled with new farmers, part-time and full-time operators, Extension professionals, scientists, graziers and non-graziers, non-profit leaders, and more. What did they have in common? An interest in grazing. Some might call it a passion.
“Turnout was higher than I anticipated, with a room full of people wanting to learn more about managed grazing,” said Daigle. “There was definitely a buzz and excitement in the air amongst the attendees to learn from each other and the speakers. The Northwest Wisconsin Graziers Network is active and growing.”
Lynn Johnson, event organizer, has played a key role in the development of the Northwest Wisconsin Graziers Network. He has directed the efforts of the network as a volunteer for the past six years. John Strauser, Grassland and Perennial Agriculture Outreach Specialist and Learning Hub Coordinator with Grassland 2.0, served as panel moderator.
“Folks said they really liked the panel discussion led by John because it reassured them of all the technical and financial support available within our grazing community,” said Johnson.
Eleven agency and organizational representatives were on the panel and shared updates on programs available to graziers. Along with the panel, the Fall Grazing Conference included three sessions on specific grazing topics, all presented by experts in their fields. Paul Daigle, who has spent 37 years working in land conservation and management, presented: Basic Grazing Principles and Approaches.
“If you are going to remember one thing from today,” said Daigle, “graze a bit taller. Let livestock into your pastures when it is 12 to 14 inches tall and remove them so you can leave 4 to 5 inches of residue. This works best when livestock are moved daily to a new paddock.”
Restoration Ecologist Stephen Thomforde presented on Wildlife and Grazing Ecology. Thomforde has 30 years and 10,000 acres of experience in designing and installing restoration projects throughout the Midwest. He also farms with his family in Goodhue County, MN. Thomforde advocates for grazing as critical to grassland-savanna integrity.
“Any day with a group of graziers is interesting and refreshing,” said Thomforde. “Graziers each have their own ways of grazing pastures. Often, a grazier is the outcome of a family operation, handed down through several generations, each operation with a specific herd, herd culture, and grazing goals, objectives, and methods. Knowledge, from generation to generation, has created a very diverse community of grazing. This diversity enriches and increases innovation and resilience.”
Interspersed between the stimulating presentations were breaks to enjoy informal conversation and a meal, featuring pork provided by a local member of the Northwest Wisconsin Graziers Network.
“People ask me why we have half hour breaks,” said Johnson. “Well, we have half hour breaks because folks might take the opportunity to network among their fellow graziers. For example, to see who has a group of feeder calves for sale or if someone has some spare fence available.”
The Northwest Wisconsin Graziers Network hosts two conferences per year. The spring conference will be held March 4, 2023, at Shell Lake Community Center. Contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.