Group highlights forage, grazing in Va.
(Feb. 27, 2018) The Virginia Forage and Grassland Council highlighted four farms in different areas of the state where demonstrations of various forage and grazing management techniques have been successful during its recent 2018 VFGC Winter Conferences.
The demonstrations, funded partially through a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, were an overall success, J. B. Daniel, NRCS forage and grassland agronomist, said in a telephone interview following the series of meetings across the state.
The four farms taking part in these grants included Summerfield Farm in Grayson County, co-owned and operated by John Fant; Swallow Hill Farm in Caroline County, owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Tim Tobin; Ronnie Nuckols in Goochland County; and Norman Bower farm in Fauquier County.
Each farmer told his story at the regional VFGC conference in his area.
Daniel said the work on the four farms focused on implementing soil health improvements through grazing management, use of ground cover, minimizing soil disturbance and energizing the system with diversity. These contribute to soil health.
The grant was aimed at farmers who were interested in rotational grazing and learning if new approaches would work for them, Daniel said.
An important factor in the success on the demonstration farms was having a nearby VFGC member team up with the farmer to make sure what resources were available from the council and government agencies to help in the process.
“It was critical they have a local contact,” he stated. “Having someone to contact for quick answers helped them get through discouraging times and achieve their goals.
“Sometimes a farmer wants to make some of these changes,” Daniel said, “then he thinks about it and gets overwhelmed. Having a contact or small local group to turn to really helps.”
The four farms vary in size and products as well as geographical locations.
Fant, a retired U.S. Army colonel is working with over 1,600 acres, 800 of which are devoted to pasture. The grazing demonstration project focused on 92 acres of pastureland.
His Summerfield Farm is a grass-fed, grass-finished operation. The family has owned it since 1970 but Fant took over the operation of the farm that had been continuously grazed for generations in 2013.
The primary operation includes 58 spring calving pairs and 74 fall calving pairs. The farm is home to three bulls and 19 replacement heifers.
Nuckols raises beef cattle on 115 acres of pastureland 30 miles west of Richmond in Goochland County.
He has been operating the farm since 2009. The 100-acre farm at Crozier, Va., is stocked with 70 cow/calf pairs, three bulls and 18 yearling replacement heifers. The farm is managed with both fall and calving herds.
Tobin began farming full-time on Swallow Hill Farm in 2009. His pastureland totals about 100 acres.
The Tobins run a conception-to-consumer enterprise that includes a cow/calf production and finishing system.
“Beef products are supplemented with pastured poultry and free range chicken eggs,” the VFGC said.
The pastures are stocked with 20 cow/calf pairs, one registered Angus bull and two bred heifers as well as nearly 18 finishing steers per year.
Bower’s operation as a tenant covers 147 acres on several rented farms. The herd totals 50 cow/calf pairs, 15 replacement heifers and backgrounding weaned calves depending on available forage and market price.
All four of the farmers shared most of the motivating factors of learning all they could about their options for meeting their individual goals for change and improvement. They attended VFGC pasture walks and conferences, sought the help of Extension, NRCS technical assistance and the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition. They said talking with other producers and networking was helpful.
After all this, they began to reap results tailored to their unique situations, using stream exclusion, developing water systems, managing grazing and other techniques to improve soil and production.
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