Story by Greg Galbraith. This story was originally published in Agri-View.
When Jason Cavadini arrived March 4 at the Shell Lake Community Center the parking lot was filling quickly. Once inside the center he was greeted by an enthusiastic assortment of farmers, educators and industry professionals who share an interest in grass-based agriculture.
Cavadini is an outreach specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Division of Extension. He owns and operates a direct-market grass-fed-beef farm near Stratford, Wisconsin. He was in Shell Lake to share his experience with winter-bale grazing, to the attendees of the Northwest Wisconsin Winter Grazing Conference.
“We’re basically an organization that depends on volunteerism,” said Lynn Johnson, who has been a key element in organizing the conference since 2017. “We depend on collaboration with other organizations to make our conference successful.”
He’s a grazing consultant with the Northwest Wisconsin Graziers Network; he volunteers as the event coordinator. He said the network’s mission is to provide education and promote rotational grazing.
“We’ve broadened our mission to include soil health and conservation,” he said.
With the help of volunteers, he said his goal is to provide excellent-quality speakers to event attendees. They work to offer a wide range of topics that network members have expressed an interest in.
He said it’s important to include time for networking in the conference agenda. The networking breaks allow time to meet other attendees. Molly Brown and her mother, Shawn Brown, said they’re regulars at the conference. They own and operate Forage Girls Farm near Hertel, Wisconsin. They’ve practiced rotational grazing since 2017.
The two say they love their Highland Scottish cattle that produce the beef they sell.
“Their double hair coat minimizes the need for increased feed intake during Wisconsin winters,” Molly Brown said.
She described the beef they produce as nutritious, tender, lean and flavorful.
“The practice of managed grazing made sense to us intuitively,” she said. “It’s getting back to the way things used to be done and to a way of management that never should have been strayed from.”
Attendees Sherri and Dale Goss use managed grazing on their Bull Moose Lake Farm near Bruce, Wisconsin. They in 2016 joined the Northwest Wisconsin Graziers Network and have attended every conference and pasture walk they can, saying they consider them invaluable to their success.
Dale Goss said his farm sits on depleted soil. He jokes that he and his wife are king and queen of the sand.
“We’ve learned to work with nature rather than fighting it,” he said. “We now finish beef on high-sugar grasses and have happy beef and consumers, and growing soil.”
They also produce pastured pork and chill-tank-tenderized pastured poultry, plus have recently added duck eggs for sale.
Adam Abel is the state grazing specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. He led the day-long conference with a presentation on “Developing and Using your Grazing Plan.” He said the benefits of managed grazing are multi-fold.
“Everything about it represents opportunity,” he said.
He said it’s not for everyone, but for those who want to practice grazing, preparing a system for success with a grazing plan will help beginning day one.
Janet McNally of Hinckley, Minnesota, shared 20 years of experience as a sheep producer utilizing managed grazing. She said 42-cent lambs in the 1990s pushed her into a grass-based production system long before “grass fed” was cool. She shared the challenges of finishing lambs on quality pasture. Because of predators she realized she needed guard dogs that would be more assertive yet would stay tight to the flock. She arrived at a combination of Spanish Mastiff, Polish Tatra Sheepdog and Maremma Sheepdog breeds. She had a separate session dedicated to the management of her dogs on her Tamarack Lamb & Wool farm.
McNally’s predation incident also resulted in a grass-management change on her farm. She concentrated her flock into one large group along with her guard dogs and began utilizing mob stocking. Mob stocking involves more-frequent flock moves and longer pasture rest periods.
Stephen Thomforde, a restoration ecologist, said he has 10,000 acres and 30 years of experience designing and installing restoration projects throughout the Midwest. He introduced Ashly Steinke and his wife, Stacy Steinke, as a case study on their Sedge Wood Farms in Chippewa County, Wisconsin. The Steinkes raise registered British White cattle and direct-market grass-fed beef. Ashly Steinke is a wildlife biologist by training. Stacy works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as a water-resources professional. They own 340 acres with their three young boys; they’ve restored wetlands and planted native prairie plants extensively on their farm.
Johnson said one of his goals is to have a conference that has relevance to new practitioners of grazing along with keeping the attention of veteran graziers. He likes to add subjects that he referred to as a bit “off center” to keep it stimulating. If attendance and enthusiasm are any measure of success, the Northwest Wisconsin Grazing Conference accomplished that goal.
Visit the Northwest Wisconsin Grazier Network’s page for more information.
Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.