A Walk on the Wild Side

Happy Sheep!

Happy Sheep!

As the heat rose up on Saturday, July 18, more than 13 current and aspiring farmers traversed from across the state – from areas as far away as Binghamton and Scottsville – to join Don Wild at Wild Acres Family Farm in Great Valley NY (near Salamanca) to learn how to make better use of forages through small scale intensive pasture management.  tatiana Stanton from Cornell University also joined to discuss the on-farm study looking at the effect of tannins given off from grazing birdsfoot trefoil on parasitic worm populations in sheep. Rod Porter, from Kings AgriSeeds and a NOFA-NY Farmer, was available with information about various pasture seed mixes and types. I felt very lucky to be the NOFA-NY staff for this event.

Wild Acres Family Farm is a small diversified farm specializing in small ruminant management, multispecies grazing and vegetable production. Beautiful and lush flower gardens created a dramatic first impression as we walked towards the back of the farmstead to set up for the event. Under the welcome shade from a stand of trees, we heard the gentle clucking of Don’s laying hens and the soft baaaing of his ewes and lambs. In a small pasture nearby, a flock of meat chickens were busy enjoying their life on pasture, and next door to them was a small herd of miniature horses. In this idyllic valley setting our lesson began.

Farmers of all ages attended the day

Farmers of all ages attended the day

As we walked around the farm, Don surprised us all by showing that his core farm is only 1.5 acres. He has used that land to the maximum, and also bartered for use of some neighboring lands, showing the value of community to the farm and its neighbors. Through rotational grazing and effective monitoring and management of his pastures, Don demonstrated how he optimizes health in his sheep flock, reducing pest pressures while producing a highly nutritious forage diet.  He showed examples of expanding grazing capacity through incorporating small grains such as forage oats, as well as summer annuals and alternative forages, such as field peas, into an effective pasture plan.  tatiana shared her research on the use of birdsfoot trefoil and the seeding rates being tested on Don’s flock of lambs. Don discussed options for fence posts and permanent as well as temporary fencing options to make the best use of small spaces and rotating fields. As we walked we could see the pattern of re-growth on the pastures one, two, and three weeks out from its last grazing. Some key tips from Don:

    • Test your soil: test your soil before you seed – not all land, even when amended with materials such as lime, will be suitable for all types of forage.
    • Expect changes: your pasture composition will change through the year as well as from year to year depending on the weather and other factors, so pastures need to be monitored regularly.
    • Diversify: mixtures tend to do better than single cultivars when planting pastures. Different forages compliment each other and thrive at different times depending on the weather and changes in soil composition across a field.
    • Water: having a good watering system in place assures consistent pasture forage throughout a season. Don shared his easy and affordable solutions to watering pastures.
    • Have the right tools: fence tighteners, a digital volt meter, and a grazing stick are three basic and very valuable tools for managing fencing and monitoring pastures.  

      Field peas ready for grazing

      Field peas ready for grazing

At the end of the session we enjoyed refreshments under the shade of the trees along with some great question and answers from Don and tatiana. Many thanks to Don and family for hosting this event, and for tatiana for coming to share the latest research with us.

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