ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Let me tell you all about my diverse organic dairy and pastures.

Posted July14, 2005

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:

Dear Jeff,

Havendale Farm is our organic dairy in Oswego County, New York. We are 2.5 miles from Lake Ontario in the snowbelt (200+ inches, normally. Pretty much all the land we crop is Ira or Williamson, very fine sandy loam (HEL). Our crop rotation is a very minimal one that supports dairy cows quite well. We moldboard plow our oldest hayfields after first cut (early June here—that really seems to be about the earliest you can plow sod here and have it go well—and put the field in BMR sorghum Sudangrass after discing in 10 tons/arce of previously piled sand-bedded free-stall manure. We then leave about a 24 inches of regrowth of the sorghum Sudangrass over winter, lightly disc the field in early spring and seed down to orchardgrass/red clover with 1 to 2 pounds/acre of Ladino clover mixed in and a nurse crop of oats at about 1.5 bushels/acre.

The second year after seeding, we start spreading at about 15 tons/acre of free-stall manure with our slinger spreader. By this time the red clover is disappearing, what seems like a dense stand of orchardgrass at first cutting quickly shows solid Ladino underneath, which gets overtaken by the orchardgrass and is ready for cutting every four to five weeks. As a note, we cut just under 2 dry-matter tons/acre after having one of the driest Mays on record. In wet years these fields are a challenge to mow at first cut, but that is a problem I'll gladly live with. Also, we don't put anything else on these fields, except manure, and maintain our pH about 5.8 and organic mater at 4.2-4.8. These fields generally average 4 dry matter tons/acre BMR or hay. We don't grow grain or feed very much of it anymore and market about 16,000 pounds/cow/year while maintaining a 12-month calving interval on our highly seasonal herd of high grade Holsteins. We crop approx. 2 acres/cow, not counting the 1/2 acre/cow it takes us to get 50-percent dry matter from intensively managed pasture, and we have always had forage carry over since cropping this way.

All the conventional farmers around me—we are the only organic dairy in county—put almost all their manure on the corn fields, but to me the grass just seems to be much more efficient. Also, we do all our forage with the round baler making for a very small line of equipment requiring less horsepower and diesel.

Sorry to ramble on so,
Scott J. McAuslan (owner/operator)
Havendale Farm

Dear Scott,

It sounds to me like you have a well-thought-out farm plan. Even though you say you don't have a diverse crop rotation, you are probably more diverse than you may think. For example, most grass-based pastures are not monocultures but polycultures with several grass species and legumes all growing in the same place at the same time. You are actually getting the benefits of a divers rotation all in the same year. Then you rotate your hay crops between grasses and legumes. Without grain crops, I think you're doing a fine job.

I hope it rains up there for you folks and that your hay production improves.

I'd be interested to know how many cows you are milking and if you wrap your first-cutting round bales as hayage?

Thanks again for the email.

Dear Jeff,

Yes, I see a lot of diversity in our pastures. We have never plowed what we use for intense grazing. We rescued it from overgrown brush, and all we have done is manured and managed it. It is a mix of orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, bluegrass and some other grass I don't know, and a whole lot of clover—white, red, alsike and even some with yellow flowers on newly cleared land—also vetch and even a fair amount of trefoil. I would not even try to mow these pastures for hay as my older sickle type haybine would just make a mess. I haven't frost seeded these pastures, just every three or four year I spread on them in late fall or early winter to keep the sandy soil well fed.

We wrapped about a hundred bales this year from the 13 acres of red clover/orchardgrass that was seeded last spring and cut twice last year. We cut most of the dry hay kind of late, but the cows seem to love it this way when they are grazing and I feel it is better for cow health. We wrap the sorghum Sudangrass at about 65-percent moisture. Tough to get it much drier without serious field losses, and if its too dry it falls apart like clover leaf.

We are currently only milking about 30 cows and feeding about 40 heifers as we sold off about 40 percent of the mature cows during organic transition, but now we have no strep ag or staph a, and no hairy wart, so we'll expand back up from within. We have 78 stalls in the free stall and have had more than a barnfull in the past when we were conventional.

We have a double four flat parlor with takeoffs and a 1,500 gallon bulk tank that I want to get near the top of in a few years.

It has rained more than 1-1/2 inches and the second cut is looking real nice. We are just planting sorghum sudangrass, since I didn't see the point of drilling into dry sand, but this is how late we have always planted it and it always does great and makes really nice feed.



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