On the evening of September 8th, a handful of dairy farmers and extension professionals met in a barn near Stratford, Wisconsin for dinner and drinks. These particular farmers were interested in the potential that dairy heifer grazing could have for their operations. Jason Cavadini, the state grazing specialist, hosted the dinner at Cavern Point Farm, which he calls the pilot event of the “Heifer Raising Road Show.”
“We hand-picked local dairy farmers who represent the spectrum of scales from small to very large,” Cavadini says. “These particular farmers are all regarded as successful farmers by their peers, and none of them are currently implementing grazing to any extent. We also chose them because we believe they represent the demographic of farmers who are highly unlikely to ever attend a pasture walk or grazing-focused event.”
Previous conversations amongst farmers and other stakeholders in the Cloverbelt Learning Hub (a region that includes Stratford) kept leading to dairy heifer grazing as a clear path toward more perennial grasslands in their community. This dinner in a barn in Stratford was a response to hearing that call.
To kick-off the event, Cavadini and Adam Abel, state grazing land specialist with NRCS, shared the merits of grazing dairy heifers. In their presentation, Cavadini and Abel highlighted how grazing dairy heifers can increase farmer profitability while also improving environmental outcomes.
“It was great to see folks consider heifer grazing,” says John Strauser, perennial agriculture outreach specialist with UW-Madison Extension. “There are a lot of challenges for farmers as they seek to transition their operations. Jason and Adam did an excellent job presenting the merits of dairy heifer grazing.”
Following the presentation, attendees stayed for hours of informal conversation, with producers sharing what would be needed for wider adoption of dairy heifer grazing.
“While we certainly wanted to inform them of the many benefits of grazing dairy heifers, since we often refer to that as the ‘low hanging fruit’ for integrating grazing, that was not our main objective,” Cavadini says. “Our main objective was to foster conversation and learn from them their perceived barriers to implementing grazing.”
Several producers in attendance were intrigued by the idea, and many expressed a need for mentorship, connecting with other dairy farmers who already graze their heifers. Follow-up engagements were discussed.
“We are hoping to replicate this event across the state,” Cavadini says. “What we learned is that dairy farmers are not necessarily opposed to the concept of grazing dairy heifers, but the uncertainties associated with an unfamiliar practice often impede adoption, despite all of the known benefits of grazing. Moving forward, I believe we can normalize the practice of grazing dairy heifers by addressing the uncertainties in practical ways for farmers.”
To facilitate dialogue during the September 8th dinner, Grassland 2.0 ran economic modeling using the Heifer Grazing Compass decision support tool. Heifer Grazing Compass, created earlier this year, can help farmers as they consider the profitability of grazing dairy heifers. The Heifer Grazing Compass decision support tool was created by Brad Barham, John Hendrickson, Connor Mulholland, and Jim Munsch as part of Grassland 2.0.