Pasturing Alternative Forages was held on Wednesday August 19th, 2015 at Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble, NY. Paul and Maureen Knapp hosted the field day and Organic Valley sponsored the event, providing lunch for the group. We were fortunate to have the rain hold off for the day and to have a very large tent to escape the heat of August.
It is always a pleasure to visit Paul and Maureen Knapp’s farm nestled in the valley of Cortland County. Paul and Maureen have been long-time NOFA-NY members and have been certified organic since 2000. They manage a diverse farm business growing poultry, hogs and strawberries as well as managing a dairy herd of 50 milkers. Their farm has a rich history with its beginnings as part of the cabbage industry growing for a sauerkraut processing facility next door to the farm, which has since become an equipment company. Paul and Maureen are excellent farmers who are able to adapt to changing dynamics within their farm. They maintain a beautiful farm and are a fine example of progressive organic dairy farmers. Uniquely, Paul’s experience growing cabbage has helped him to understand and manage growing brassicas for alternative forages.
The event began with a round of introductions of presenters and attendees which included a variety of folks from bovine to sheep farmers, new farm owners and seed sales representatives. Paul spoke about how he began planting alternative forages to help mitigate the summer slump in pasture rotation. Paul now utilizes his alternative pastures including kale, turnip, radish and Sorghum Sudan grass to maintain production and components during the entire grazing season. Paul has also used buckwheat, triticale & peas as alternate forages in the past. We walked out and viewed the different test plots of brassicas to compare how they grew and how the animals grazed them. Paul chose to graze his animals for 2 hours on an every other day basis to allow the forages time for regrowth and to not overwhelm the cows ration. Paul balances the alternative forages with perennial pasture consisting mostly of orchard grass and white clover with some red clover.
Once we viewed the most recently grazed plots and plots with regrowth, we ventured back to our shady tent for a great lunch provided by Organic Valley. After everyone’s belly was full we headed back out to view the sorghum sudan grass pasture. Many of the attending farmers shared their experiences pasturing alternative forages, what has worked for them and the results they have seen. There was a discussion on how BMR Sorghum thrives in hot weather and the brassicas thrive during the cooler weather. By being able to rotate during the season they can be used to mitigate the risk of low pasture yields with varying weather at different times of the summer. Paul stated how field days like this are great for building a farmers tool box; everyone can take home a few things that will help them in their operation down the road. Following an interesting discussion we had the pleasure to see a dry run of the Soil Health Trailer that Fay Benson and his team brought to the event. The National Grazinglands Coalition’s Soil Health Trailer is equipped to measure and demonstrate vital physical, chemical, and biological components of soil health. When in full working mode workshop participants use penetrometers to measure soil compaction, and see a demonstration of the Active Carbon test that measures how much food the soil contains for the biological organisms that support soil health.
We are grateful to Fay for bringing the trailer and talking about what it is capable of, to Paul for sharing his years of experience and to Tim Darbishire for sharing his knowledge on forage options, seeding & maintaining a stand and rotations. We are very pleased with the program and thankful to Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative for their support.