Ontario farmer discusses corn grazing during N.B. pasture tour

 The Maritime Angus Association and the Kings County Soil and Crop Improvement Association sponsored a pasture tour on July 28. The first stop was the farm of Linda and Dale Lackie in Southfield, N.B. Some of the farm’s Red Angus cattle are shown here on pasture. (George Fullerton photos)

The Maritime Angus Association and the Kings County Soil and Crop Improvement Association sponsored a pasture tour on July 28. The first stop was the farm of Linda and Dale Lackie in Southfield, N.B. Some of the farm’s Red Angus cattle are shown here on pasture. (George Fullerton photos)

by George Fullerton

The Maritime Angus Association teamed up with the Kings County Soil and Crop Improvement Association in southern New Brunswick to sponsor a pasture tour on July 28. The tour began at the Village of Norton’s municipal building. In addition to loading a tour coach, a number of cars and pickup trucks trailed in caravan.

More than 50 people from across New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia participated in the daylong event.

The first stop was at the farm of Linda and Dale Lackie in Southfield. The focus was on a land-clearing project to develop new pasture. During an informative question and answer session, the Lackies shared their plans for rotational grazing and the economic and logistical challenges involved in clearing woodland to develop into pasture.

The Lackies operate a purebred Red Angus herd, pasturing at their home farm, at another nearby 40-acre pasture (recently cleared by mulching forest and brush cover), and at the community pasture in Buckley Settlement.

The Lackies shared their plans to establish paddocks, central alleys, and watering systems in their pastures as they’re developed.

Pasture tour participants made two stops at Passekeag Holdings properties, first on their rotationally grazed pasture in Salt Springs and then a stop at the home farm on the outskirts of Hampton to see paddocks, and land clearing and pasture development work. Don and Geraldine Bettle of Passekeag Holdings operate an Angus cow-calf operation, along with their understudy Austin Richard.

AWARD-WINNING SPEAKER

Lunch, consisting of barbecue burgers and 50-percent beef sausages, was sponsored by the Sussex Co-op. It was held at the Lighthouse River Centre in Hampton, and featured luncheon speaker Tim Lehrbass, who operates a beef farm in southern Ontario with his wife Tina and their sons Charlie and Max.

 Pasture tour group participants on the Lackie farm.

Pasture tour group participants on the Lackie farm.

In February, Lehrbass won the 2018 Mapleseed Pasture Award for the family farm’s “environmental improvements and exceptional pasture management.” The award is co-sponsored by the Beef Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Forage Council, and the Ontario-based seed company Mapleseed.

The Lehrbass family’s 70-cow beef operation in Alvinston, Ont., is in the heart of cash crop country. Their farm consists of 120 acres, including 105 acres in pasture and 15 acres in corn and annuals. Lehrbass works off-farm as a fibre optic technician.

Lehrbass began his presentation by explaining that he wanted to operate the family farm but couldn’t afford to get into cash cropping. So he looked for a system that would be profitable and fit in with his day job. Lehrbass decided to build a commercial cow-calf operation (with some backgrounding).

He realized that he would have to establish rotational grazing to meet profitability goals and he wanted a system that would facilitate as close to year-round grazing as possible. That meant rotational grazing on pasture forage in the conventional grazing months of May through October, and then moving the herd to standing corn after the ground freezes in November and extending through to April.

In his presentation, Lehrbass estimated his cost to house an animal for 188 days at more than $800 (including buildings, feed, manure handling, and other costs). He estimates his cost per animal that’s grazing corn at less than $1 per day.

The pasture forage mix includes alfalfa, ryegrass, Orchard grass, White clover, Crown vetch, Kentucky bluegrass, Bird’s-foot trefoil, Creeping fescue, and Prairie grass.

“I like to have a variety of grasses because different varieties come on at different times through the grazing season,” said Lehrbass. “In some seasons, different grasses will do better than others. So if there is a variety of grasses, we have feed for our cattle.”

Pastures are rotationally grazed – one acre at a time – by moving the electric fencing. Lehrbass uses four galvanized wires on the perimeter fence, three wires on the laneways, and braided string to divide paddocks.

The paddocks get a rest period of 35-40 days between grazing.

Lehrbass discussed the farm’s fencerows and marginal land, which are fenced to exclude grazing and to provide wildlife habitat and additional environmental benefits. Commercial beekeepers locate hives on a small area of the farm.

BENEFITS OF CORN GRAZING

After the ground freezes in November, Lehrbass begins to rotationally graze corn, which the cows stay on until the ground begins to thaw. When the fields are muddy, the cows are held in a yard and fed haylage.

The corn is conventionally planted. When it’s at the four-leaf stage, Lehrbass interplants between the corn rows with a mixture of annual forages, including kale, ryegrass, clover, and Cow peas. Lehrbass pointed out that the annuals help balance the high-energy corn. He also provides haylage in a yard. And his cattle have continual access to a special mineral blend that includes calcium and selenium.

For grazing, the corn is fenced off in 150-by-20-foot blocks. The cattle tend to break off the stalks and then eat off the ground. Lehrbass’s photos showed that after grazing, only small sections of leafless stalk remain on the ground.

On Saturdays, the Lehrbass family sets up the grazing paddocks for the following week so that moving the cattle to new corn is just a matter of opening a fence.

Corn is produced on the same area for two consecutive years and then the area is planted to grain as a nurse crop for Lehrbass’s unique pasture mix. Lehrbass added that he is continually experimenting with new varieties in his pasture and inter-row seedings.

Happy with nutrition from grazed corn, Lehrbass sees backgrounded calves with an average daily gain of two to 2.5 pounds per day.

Following lunch, the pasture tour continued to the Model Farm Angus operation in Quispamsis, and wound up returning to Norton.

Nadine Simpson, manager of the Kings County Soil and Crop Improvement Association, said she was pleased with the pasture tour participation. “We thought the day went very well,” she said. “We had a variety of people from across the Maritimes, which shows the depth of interest in events like this. The farmers who hosted the stops were very engaged with their audience.”

The New Brunswick Soil and Crop Improvement Association is already making tentative plans to sponsor a pasture tour in 2019, possibly in the greater Fredericton area.