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February 26, 2013

Workshops focus on grazing strategies

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — Whether you have horses, cattle or sheep, chances are you’re concerned about developing the best grazing conditions you can muster for your livestock.

Achieving the best conditions isn’t a matter of luck. It takes planning, experts say.

To help farmers prepare for the upcoming grazing season, the Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District is promoting two workshops that will put the importance of grazing practices in fresh perspective.

“What we really want to emphasize is the economic development potential” that increases as the result of following the best practices, said Scott Fickbohm, the district manager for the agency.

“The whole idea,” he added, “is that a profitable farm is a safe farm.”

The first training session is geared towards those with grass-fed beef farms. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Farmer’s Museum Main Hall, at 5775 State Route 80 in Cooperstown. A light lunch will be available for attendees.

Bob Weaver of East Springfield, a contractor with Otsego County Soil & Water, and Troy Bishopp, who is known as “the Grass Whisperer” and is an expert in grass-based agriculture, will lead the Wednesday event.

The second workshop is devoted to equine grazing. It will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at K.C.’s Corner restaurant, located at the intersection of U.S. Route 20 and county Highway 31 in East Springfield.

Weaver and Dave Roberts, the grazing lands specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will speak about their equine grazing experiences.

There is no charge to attend the events.

Some farmers may already be grazing their horses, Weaver said. But the workshop will help them get the best use out of their available land, and perhaps help them reduce their reliance on purchased feed — and save money in the process, he said.

“Our concern is always the environmental concern here,” Weaver said in explaining the benefits he hopes will flow from the workshops.

“When we improve grazing, we improve environmental issues, such as reduction of nutrient runoff to our streams and water ways,” he said. “That’s our big push as to why we think grazing is positive.”

“Why do we think it’s good for farmers?” he added. “We think we can save them some money, and they can still be doing something that’s good environmentally, even if they don’t know it.”

The experts plan to discuss the benefits that result from using a daily grazing chart tool, which allows farmers to keep track of precisely where on their acreage their herds and flocks have been munching grass. The tool is designed to enable farmers to assess the successes and failures of each grazing season, and help them achieve better results and perhaps greater profit in subsequent years.

“It’s all about increasing efficiencies,” said Fickbohm, noting farmers often struggle to keep their operations solvent at a time when the cost of supplies is rising and market prices are dictated by forces beyond their control.