Management intenstive grazing focus
While the majority of Vermonts dairy farmers continue to raise
their cows in confinementfed on forage and graina growing number
of the states farmers are putting their cows out to pasture,
adapting their operations to a method called management intensive
grazing. By moving through a series of pasture subdivisions (paddocks),
according to the plant growth, animals harvest their own feed
and spread their own manure. Often called rotational grazing,
the method shifts some of the work from the farmer to cow and
lessens the dependency on the labor-intensive growing-harvesting-feeding
As part of ongoing efforts to expand management options available
to Vermonts dairy farmers, UVM has steadily increased its research
and outreach activity over the past fifteen years in the area
of management intensive grazing. Pasture management studies are
being conducted by researchers in the departments of Animal and
Food Sciences, Plant and Soil Science, and Community Development
and Applied Economics. Extension specialists throughout the state
organize and facilitate pasture walks and conduct workshops on
topics such as pasturing poultry, cows, beef, goats, and sheep.
And with funding provided by the Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS), the Center for Sustainable Agriculture recently
hired a pasture network coordinator, Sarah Flack, to promote farmer
discussion groups and help a new farmer organization, the Vermont
Grass Farmers Association, get started. Cooperation with the Vermont
Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets and the University
of New Hampshire has also been exceptional in organizing conferences
and pasture walks.
Much of the credit for bringing management intensive grazing to
Vermont goes to Bill Murphy, researcher in UVMs Plant and Soil
Science Department. In 1981, Murphy began applying management
intensive grazing, using a book by Andre Voisin of France, on
his farm in Colchester. The results were so beneficial in increasing
pasture forage production that Murphy began encouraging farmers
to use the practice. Eventually this effort led
Although putting livestock on summer pasture is not a new concept
for most Vermont farmers, management intensive grazing, which
makes use of smaller paddocks and frequent moving or rotation
of the animals, is, Murphy says. This system allows pastures
to be grazed more evenly and efficiently.
Pasture that is continuously grazed does not have time to recover,
and may eventually die. In management intensive grazing, livestock
are not moved back into an area until there is a pregrazing forage
mass of 2,200 to 2,400 pounds of dry matter per acre, orin other
wordsthe grass has reached a height of about 6 to 8 inches.
Management intensive grazing has many advantages over the confinement
method of raising dairy animals, according to Murphy and Flack.
These include reduced labor, feed, fuel, repair, and equipment
costs. Farmers need to harvest and store less forage, and what
supplements they do use can be reduced in both quantity and protein
How much supplement do pastured cows need? In addition to studying
grazing management requirements of pasture plants in drought-prone
areas such as Addison County, Murphy is currently conducting research
on supplement needs of dairy calves raised on pasture. In a related
study, Jim Welch, professor emeritus of animal and food sciences,
is investigating optimum feed and nutrition for lactating cows.
Theres enough nutrient in the pasture for lactating cows, Welch
says, but because the fiber content is so high and filling, high-producing
cows cant eat enough for their energy needs.
Working with Welch on this research project, Rick Wackernagel
is focusing on the economics of feeding grain to cows on pasture.
Variables such as fluctuating grain and milk prices, as well as
individual management, make this Extension farm management specialists
work tricky. His aim, however, is to plot connections between
feed expense and amounts of milk produced and thus help Welch
pinpoint optimal levels of supplementation.
In an effort to enhance the network that assists the states farmers,
UVMs Center for Sustainable Agriculture formed the Vermont Pasturelands
Network, a collaboration of farmers, agencies, and the University,
which coordinates various pasture-related educational activities
throughout the state. Flack also helped a group of farmers organize
the first annual grazing conference of the Vermont Grass Farmers
Association last February, which focused on producing poultry
and milk on pastureand attracted 176 Vermont members. She also
coordinates pasture walks and discussion groups for farmers who
use, or are interested in, pasture management.
The July pasture walk hosted by the Hayes draws 15 farmers, in
addition to Murphy and Flack. Pat Hayes formerly grazed his 70
cows in one big pasture. He has been using management intensive
grazing for the past five years and continues to experiment with
and improve his methods. As the group traipses over pasturesequipped
with a map delineating paddocksquestions, comments, and conversation
flow for more than two hours. The focus shifts from the size of
water pipes, to a new NRCS cost-sharing program for improving
lanes, building fences, and installing water systems; from the
effect of hay supplementation on milk output, to the efficacy
of ammonium nitrate as a fertilizer for pastures.
Most apparent is the personal impact of these gatherings and the
programs and research underpinning themthe proof in the pudding,
so to speak. There are no uninteresting or unimportant questions
and no one conveys an idea as the right way. Everyone is riveted,
everyone offers anecdotessome witty and self-deprecatingand
many take notes. Ted Yandow, who dairy farms in St. Albans, speaks
passionately about the discussion groups he and many of the farmers
attend. You dont make decisions on your own, he says. You
really get to know one anothertheyll even tell you thats a
kinda stupid idea. He tells everyone that his group switched
from monthly to bi-weekly meetings because they are very special.
Advice flows tactfully and is received graciously. Pat Hayes floats
his idea about adding a pond, and another farmer passes on a warning
from his vet about wildlife parasites. Noting the pastures rich
mixture of grasses, clovers, and forbs, Murphy reminds the farmers
that grass isnt just grass. Sheep farmer Doug Flack amens:
My pasture is a salad bar. Sarah Flack, tracking the time, herds
the group back to the barn. But the discussions continue, now
in groups of three and four. Finally, Flack announces next months
walk, and that seems to be the reassurance that removes everyones
reluctance to depart.
Helping Vermonters Learn to Live
Many of the clergys concerns about the New Genetics mirrored
those of society: the need to protect the confidentiality of genetic
tests that reveal ones predisposition to diseases; the importance
of guidelines on the use of genetic engineering and the difficulty
of defining what is normal; the need for protections against
employment and insurance discrimination for those at higher risk
But many themes reflected the clergys role as counselors: the
importance of helping parishioners deal with the life-and-death
questions raised by genetic testing and knowledge; the need for
the religious community to work together to avoid the polarization
that has marginalized its role and voice in other social issues,
such as on abortion; the need to affirm the dignity of all life
and to be humble in the face of lifes wonder, awe, and mystery.
For project director Alan Guttmacher, M.D., this wide-ranging
discussion, from May 19-21, was the ideal conclusion to the first
of 10 retreats in a three-year-long discussion with Vermonters
about the implications of the New Genetics.
The grass-roots approach of the Community Ethics and Genetics
Project is funded by a $579,245 grant from the Ethical, Legal,
and Social Implications Program (ELSI) at the National Human Genome
Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health. The project
builds on Vermonts town-meeting tradition of community discourse
and is the first time, says Guttmacher, the states only medical
geneticist and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics
at the UVM College of Medicine, that any state has attempted to
have a state-wide discussion and teach-in on the implications
of the New Genetics.
We shouldnt leave these questions to the professionals and scientists
alone. These questions involve huge social issues. Technology
is moving rapidly and we need to start the conversations now,
says Guttmacher, who also heads the Vermont Genetics Initiative.
The College of Medicine and Fletcher Allen Health Care established
the initiative three years ago to coordinate clinical, research,
and education programs in genetics.
About 20 percent of the ELSIs program current $8.2 million budget
is being allocated to professional and community education projects,
such as the Vermont program, according to Elizabeth Thomson, director
of Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications Research at the institute.
Since its founding in 1990, the ELSI program has distributed over
$40 million in funding more than 135 research and education projects.
The Vermont project is one of the most ambitious attempts to
involve representatives from throughout a state and one of only
a handful of projects that are involving such diverse groups in
community discussion, says Thomson.
Over the next 18 months, representatives from health care providers,
media, social service agencies, educators, institutional review
and ethics boards, concerned citizens, and business, legal, and
political groups will take part in nine more three-day retreats
at the Bishop Booth Conference Center in Burlington. These retreats
will help build the nucleus of leaders for focus groups and a
variety of school and community forums and discussions in the
second year of the program. The project will culminate with 10
town meetings around the state during the third year of the
At the end of the three years, project organizers should have
a sense of the 10 to 12 issues of greatest concern to Vermonters.
During a fourth year, Guttmacher envisions a series of retreats
bringing together a cross-section of Vermonters to develop consensus
statements and guidelines and possibly recommendations for legislation
to address these concerns.
Is four years too long to wait?
Guttmacher thinks not. In three or four years some of the issues
and science will be clearer. Im not sure that we are wise enough
today to come up with anything more than generic statements like
the confidentiality of genetic testing is important and ought
to be respected.
Can rural Vermonts approach be a model for other states?