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How do I meet the 120-day grazing requirement for organic production?


Even if you feel that you have plenty of land to pasture animals on, mid-season dry spells and the need to let pastures rest means that you may need to consider particular management alternatives in order to have enough forage this summer. Beyond finding more pasture land, some options to consider include grazing your hayfields, growing summer annual forages, frost seeding, and stockpiling pasture.

There are many resources and guides available to help you choose the forage option that’s best for your operation. Wisconsin Extension offers grazing resources ; so does GrassWorks . A resource that directly addresses your question is “Extend the Grazing Season with a Forage Chain,” a workshop presented by Laura Paine at the 2014 Organic Farming Conference. The audio recording of that workshop is sold on the Marbleseed website.

Many producers bring hayfields into the grazing rotation after one or two cuttings. These can be dedicated hayfields, or different fields cut each year. Rotating hayfields with pasture use may increase species diversity and control certain weeds.

We’ve recently seen an increase in the practice of grazing summer annuals, such as sorghum sudan, as a supplement to cool-season forages. Graze only after plants have reached 18-24 inches. It works well to strip-graze a bit of the field each day in addition to the perennial pastures. Care must be taken to avoid prussic acid poisoning, but if you graze this crop during summer slump that is not an issue. Also, avoid grazing during or after frost.

Fall grazing of broadleaf crops such as turnips, radish, or mixtures of several species can be utilized in some cases. Introduce these slowly and do your homework as to the health effects of grazing these species. You cannot rely exclusively on these for grazing, and they should not be more than 75% of the animal’s diet while being fed. Supplement with dry hay, and allow access to grass pastures while grazing brassicas. In some cases, it might work to no-till the broadleaf seed into existing sod, creating a grass/broadleaf mixture.

Frost seeding of red clover at 2-3 pounds per acre and white clover at 1-2 pounds per acre separately or in a mixture in early spring is common in the Upper Midwest. Some graziers frost seed a third of their acres each year to try to keep the 30-50% recommended legume in swards, which is essential for providing nitrogen in an organic system.

Stockpiling forages for late season grazing can work to feed non-lactating animals with lower nutritional requirements. Rest these acres after mid-August, and graze when dormancy sets in due to freezing temperatures. You might be able to graze animals with lower nutritional requirements on CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) fields, if there is access to water. You will need to notify your organic certification agency to include these in your annual inspection and add them to your Organic System Plan. Before doing this, make sure there has been no chemical spraying of invasive weeds, which landowners are required to control under CRP rules. In addition, approval to graze must be granted by the FSA and NRCS (Farm Service Agency and National Resources Conservation Service).

Posted: Apr 2016
Answer By: Jean Stramel