Vibrant Vermont Pasture with Grazing Dairy Cows

A grazing plan is the tool you will use to organize your land, animals, budget, effort and time to achieve your farming goals. 

Grazing plans are a dynamic approach that, over time, will help you  meet your goals and adjust to changing conditions, which will allow you to achieve profitability and maintain ecological balance. 

We have gathered together this list of the most useful elements of a good plan here for you, and we hope you'll email us so we can help as you work on and improve yours.  And though it's just a bit dated, this Grazing Basics information is also a great way to get a quick overview.

1. Start learning from other farmers immediately.

Farmer Explaining his Fencing System to Visitors

As soon as you know you want to raise livestock, the first step is to learn what's possible, what's working on Vermont farms (and what isn't) by connecting with other farmers. This is the right time to start attending pasture walks, workshops, conferences, and any other learning opportunity you can find. By seeing and hearing from those who are at different stages of developing their operations, you can get your own farm started in the ways most likely to work for your own goals.

Opportunities for learning from other farmers:

Sign up for the Pasture Calendar to receive a monthly email with details of pasture walks and other chances to learn, or visit the calendar online.
 
Connect with and/or join local farmer organizations:
  • Vermont Grass Farmers Association, a farmer-driven organization that promotes, manages and oversees managed grazing outreach and education programs for Vermont producers.
  • Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition: a group of Farmers in the Lake Champlain Basin who have taken on a leadership role to show that a strong Local Farm Economy and a clean Lake Champlain can work together.
  • Connecticut River Farmers Watershed Alliance: a farmer-led group aimed at helping farmers implement environmentally sound practices in Vermont & New Hampshire.
  • Farmers' Watershed Alliance: a Franklin and Grand Isle based organization that provides assistance and funding to farmers to help minimize environmental impacts.

2. Describe Your Goals, and the Current State of the Farm

Farmers Gather for Learning on a Vermont Grass-Based Farm

Document your goals & priorities, in clear and quantifiable terms. Then describe the current state of the farm by attempting to capture this moment in time).

Recommended resource:

3. Calculate How Much Food Your Animals will Need, and Your Pastures' Ability to Meet That

Healthy Animals, Healthy Plants, Healthy Soil & Water are the Goal of a Good Grazing Plan
Recommended resources:

* Available through one of the labs listed here:

 

4. Gather soil maps detailing soil types, slope, hydrology, etc.

Lush Pasture
Knowing the farm's soil type will help you determine what crops can grow there, and hydrology and slope are just as important in planning for success.
 
Recommended resources:

5. Sketch a detailed map of existing or planned critical infrastructure: fences, gates & water sources

Beef Cattle on Pasture

Where your animals are and what they have to eat and drink is what will make and break your farm.  The question of whether access to water is in the right place is the one that will answer whether your farm system will work or not.

Use this step of the planning process to identify the investment you'll need to make (or maintain or improve) a pasture layout that lets your animals have access to the forage and water to keep them healthy.   

(The next element to consider is shelter, which is not part of the grazing plan but should be part of your planning for sustainable management, health and comfort of your animals.) 

We recommend these companies and catalogs as a tool for budgeting.  We include the "general equipment" category primarily for their fencing and water options, but can also let you develop the other parts of your plan and budget. 

Recommended resources:
  • Information on springs and other water sources on your property:

6. Write a short narrative that Includes known challenges & plans for contingencies.

Grazing Horses

Consider winter management, strategies for "summer slump," alternate water sources for future development, what you'll do under drought or rainy conditions.

This 1-2 page document is the right place to also make note of all the "grey area" items that don't fit into other elements of your plan.

Recommended resource (a good guide to assessing your pasture):

7. Consider and document the programs or practices that could be useful for you.

Grazing Sheep

These will probably be made clear as you identify your goals, known resources and known challenges, and may include financial resources or other kinds of help.

Recommended resources:

8. Plan grazing system 2-3 months from present, taking into account above plus year-round forage management goals, pasture productivity, plant growth, etc.

Goats
Recommended resource:

9. Optional and recommended: cash flow statement detailing the expense of implementing recommended practices (for example, establishing perimeter fence) vs. income gained.

Green Pasture
Recommended resource:

 

Interested in knowing more about the Center's work or do you have a question we haven't answered here?  Contact us via email or  802-656-5459 and we'll do our best to help.

Woodcut of a farm with people gathering produce and cows grazing

Contact

  • Help with a plan for grazing your livestock:  Kimberly Hagen at  802-656-3834 or.kimberly.hagen@uvm.edu
  • General inquiries and potential partnerships: Jenn Colby at 802-535-7606 or jcolby@uvm.edu
  • Vermont Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program Education Coordinator Mary Ellen Franklin at MaryEllen.Franklin@uvm.edu
  • Pasture walks and other upcoming events: Colene Reed at colene.reed@uvm.edu
  • Help with your Connecticut River watershed farm, including nutrient management and other water quality-related issues: Laura Johnson at laura.o.johnson@uvm.edu
  • Research questions or ideas: Juan Alvez at 802-656-6116 or juan.alvez@uvm.edu
  • Include pasture-related events in online or email Pasture Calendars: Cheryl Herrick at cheryl.herrick@uvm.edu

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