Ohio Symposium Focuses on Profitable Forages
By CONNIE LECHLEITNER
Sheep Industry News Contributor
(Jan. 1, 2013) The Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium, hosted annually by the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association (OSIA) and the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program, attracted more than 200 sheep producers to the Wooster campus of the Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.
The symposium featured a keynote address by Margaret Soulen Hinson, president of the American Sheep Industry Association, as well as breakout sessions that focused on improving use of forages and hay for greater profitability.
Sheep Production in the West
Soulen Hinson provided attendees with differences between Midwest and Western production practices. She described the atmosphere in the Western states for sheep producers as ‘contentious.’ “About 40 percent of our sheep spend time on public lands, but many don’t think we should be there. We must work to maintain an infrastructure to replace that land if it should no longer be available,” she said.
Soulen Hinson displayed a map of her grazing lands, which include private, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. forest and state grazing leased lands totaling about 100,000 acres. “It’s all intermingled and managed as one unit, but depending on where the sheep graze, it falls under different laws,” she said. “We graze a variety of landscapes that include high forest, sage brush and high desert. If we lose any aspect of our grazing land, it will no longer be a yearly operation for us.”
In addition to the challenges of grazing land infrastructure, Soulen Hinson discussed labor and immigration issues, losses due to predation, bighorn sheep disease transmission, the potential impact of the sage grouse as an endangered species and the risk of wildfires.
Panel Shares Forage Management Practices
A diverse group of Ohio producers shared how they better utilize forages with pasture and hay.
Knox County Farmer Bruce Rickard has a mixed farm of sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens. He is exclusively a grass farm with 180 acres, and purchases his hay. He noted that he tries to graze his animals all year and provides hay only to cattle when temporarily in holding pens and to sheep at shearing and lambing.
Rickard experimented with running all of his species together, which he said worked well. However, he noted this year he saw success by grazing cattle on grass pasture followed by sheep 40 days later, and managed both warm-season and cool-season grasses.
“I’m able to graze by the square foot, and I have 5,000 square foot of water line and electric line, which makes one-acre paddocks easy to manage. I can subdivide to one half, one quarter or one tenth of an acre. I intensively graze each paddock eight to ten times per year.” Rickard lambs in March and his system allows him to graze his largest flock when he has the most forage available. “In July, I’m down to dry ewes and finishing lambs, when I have less grazing available.”
Jeff and Kathy Bielek’s Wayne County farm benefited immediately from soil testing. The couple downsized to a 14.5 acre farm in 2007 which includes 30 ewes which serve the market lamb and direct sales market. “Before we bought it, Jeff had the soil tested,” Kathy noted. “The day we bought it, we had the lime truck on it,” Jeff said. They applied lime three times as well as four applications of poultry litter, urea and gypsum, and cross-seeded it with red and white clover.
The Bieleks also rented a no-till drill and planted oats, turnips and groundhog radish. They noted that they do not use herbicide, and controlled weeds by mowing, hand-weeding and hand scything.
Operating a 156-acre farm in three locations is the challenge for Athens County Producer Curt Cline. He has 300 ewes and 85 replacement ewes, which are Polypay crossed on a Suffolk sire, and serves the feeder lamb market.
“I had the choice to build up stock or build up my infrastructure of waterlines, fence, etc., and I chose to work on the infrastructure first,” he said. “As a result, I feel I am understocked for what the sheep could be eating.”
Cline has a grass rotation of seven-acre pastures with water, used all summer. “We do intensive grazing, and strip graze alfalfa and stock corn. Like Bielek, Cline stressed the importance of soil testing pastures. “A few years ago, we did grid sampling that uses a satellite to show the distribution on a soil map. It cost about $6-$7 per acre and resulted in much greater production,” he said. “We have a Grazing Council that meets at farms in our area, and that’s been really valuable too. I find that I’m focusing on one nutrient at a time because that’s what my budget allows.”
Cline also had success grazing lambs on green corn before the ear was formed, and also grazed corn that was thigh high to tassel. “My lambs in September gained about 15 pounds doing this. It worked really well and I would not have had quality pasture at that time if I didn’t use it. A lot of times I just let my corn stand for the ewes to graze during the winter, but I did harvest it this year due to the price I got. There’s not many quality forages that you can use in multiple ways like that.”
Kevin Fowler of Ashtabula County is better known for his seed company, but also operates a 50-acre farm that was formerly in the Conservation Reserve Program for many years. “We’re up almost on the lake (Erie), so year-round grazing is not possible,” he said.
With 50 head of ewes plus lambs, he breeds from a Dorsett/Suffolk base with bromel-faced ewes, but admitted that due to the farm’s many other aspects, the flock often does not receive much attention. He rotates among 35 acres of pasture, and works on compaction and weeds.
“We found that Calcium was good, but Phosphorus was low when tested,” he said. “We renovated all of the grass genetics and fed it with foliar fertilizer. When you use dry material, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but when you use foliar, it’s like an IV, putting a small amount of material where it needs to be.”
Fowler accesses a pond using a jet pump and pressurized line with quick couplers. Due to weather conditions that can mean snow from October to April, he uses May 1 as a target date for his livestock to be grazing, and relies on stored feed for five to six months of the year. He has planted sorghum Sudan grass with turnips as additional forage and has 130 acres of hay to use as a drought hedge.
Understanding Pasture Forage Plant Species
David Robison, forage manager at Legacy Seeds, Inc., Winona Lake, Wis., provided attendees with a presentation on making the farm operation more profitable using proper forage species in pasture and grazing management.
He noted that the least-expensive way to improve profitability is to feed the pasture.
“If you start with one ton of forage, worth approximately $400, add two ton of Nitrogen at a cost of $200, and gain three tons of forage, you’ve just made $1,200. I’d call that a reasonable investment,” he said.
He noted that ammonium sulfate (21-0-0-21) is a very inexpensive way to improve the pasture soil (if the pasture contains no clovers). Robison recommended one pass of fertilizer in May when fields begin to green up, a second pass in August or early September (hopefully when fall rains occur), and another application in early November.
Robison suggested that a complete ruminant forage profit system could be divided into several parts, including 30 percent permanent pasture, 20 percent alfalfa/alfalfa grass hay, ten percent cereal grains and annual forages, ten percent ‘drought buster,’ ten percent row crop and cereal forages, ten percent stockpiled tall fescue and ten ton per acre annual forages.
“Our goal is really to achieve 365 days of grazing,” he said. “Grazing is the cheapest way to feed ruminants on a cost per pound nutrition basis. To reach our goal, we need season-long grazing that is persistent, high yielding, drought resistant, palatable and high quality.”
Robison discussed many of the newer forage species, from orchard grass, bromes ryegrass and fescue to renovating alfalfa stands to red and white clover, to summer annuals such as pearl millet, brassica, oats, turnips, radishes, kale, swedes, sorghum sudan grass, teff grass and pasja. He also discussed forage cover crops sown into row crops.
“When you’re looking to purchase new species of plants for your farm, ask for trial results from here in Ohio, or if not available here, at least that have been conducted in a neighboring state,” he said.
During the symposium, the OSIA also held its membership meeting and elected 2013 officers, which included Daryl Clark, Muskingum County, president; Shawn Ray, Noble County, vice president; Mark McCabe, Marion County, secretary/treasurer; and Jim Percival, Greene County, past president. The association presented awards for youth achievement, environmental stewardship, Friends of the Ohio sheep industry and the Charles Boyles Master Shepherd award.
The 2013 Buckeye Shepherds Symposium will be held Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at a location yet to be determined.