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PFI sets annual conference

By Staff | Dec 15, 2013

AMES – For cattle grazier Neil Dennis, the key to successfully raising pastured livestock can be boiled down to one idea: “Look after the land and it will look after you – and take pictures.”

Dennis raises brood cows and stocker cattle in Sunnybrae Farm with his wife, Barbara, in Wowota, Saskatchewan, Canada.

He said he used to manage his cattle in ways that didn’t consider the whole pasture system.

“I was doing rotational grazing under conventional management, coming back to a pasture before it was ready, and we made the system collapse in four to five years.”

The Dennises switched to holistic management in 1998.

At first, Dennis said, “I thought it wouldn’t work. We were already doing rotational grazing and were having financial problems, just digging a deeper hole doing the same practices we’d always done.”

However, he started keeping good records, he said, only to find that “things just kept getting better.” The pasture was improving, and so were the animals.

“They behave and graze differently in bigger groups,” Dennis said, who now grazes more than 800 head on 1,000 acres.

“After you get about 500 animals together they start being almost like one animal,” he said, “more like the buffalo, creating their own flow.”

Dennis is scheduled to teach several workshops on high stock-density grazing at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2014 annual conference, “Well Grounded,” set for Jan. 24-25 at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State University campus in Ames.

His classes will include:

A). High stock-density grazing increased plant density, allowing him to graze more animals on each acre and improving forage quality and yield, soil structure and animal performance.

B). Tricks of the trade: Grazing to improve soil and forage quality, about bale grazing for ease of winter feeding, “deep massage” for increased soil organic matter and other unique grazing methods Dennis has used to obtain desired pasture and animal performance outcomes.

C). Equipment innovations for this style of grazing, as well as an informal breakfast meeting where attendees can network and ask questions in a more informal setting.

Register online at practicalfarmers.org/events/annual-conference.html or by contacting Erica Andorf at erica@practicalfarmers.org or (515) 232-5661.

Special rates are available for students and PFI members.

The 2014 conference extends 2013’s focus on sustaining soil health with a spotlight on cover crops and extended rotations, and features several sessions on grazing practices and management strategies that can save time, boost profits, keep more family members on the farm, and build soil health while improving pastures and protecting water quality.

Additional livestock sessions at the conference include:

1). Rethinking your farm with cover crops, led by Gabe Brown, of Brown’s Ranch, Bismarck, N.D.

2). Grow family farm incomes, retain family harmony, led by James Ranch family members, Durango, Colo.

3). Beginners talk with experts: Livestock business planning, led by Cheryl and Mike Hopkins, Frog Hollow Farm, of Walker; Brian Gossling, FSA of Iowa; Susan Jutz, ZJ Farm, of Solon; and Renee LaBarge, Lincoln Savings Bank.

4). Livestock feed rations 101.

5). U-Pick roundtable discussion.

6). Food safety of integrating livestock into fruit and vegetable production

In addition to these conference sessions, a second Saturday morning breakfast session will give livestock farmers the opportunity to collaborate on combining supply orders with other farmers, and a third Saturday morning breakfast session will provide livestock farmers the opportunity to talk more with Gabe Brown.

The conference will also feature keynote speaker Ricardo Salvador, with Union of Concerned Scientists; 20 other in-depth workshops covering topics in field crops, horticulture, estate planning, fermentation, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Additional workshops and topics can be found online by visiting: practicalfarmers.org/events/annual-conference.html.

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