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by Hubert Earle
Dire forecasts continue to cloud the future of livestock farming. For dairy farmers there are further quota reductions and the need for capital to buy more quota to maintain and improve income. Other livestock farms face escalating fixed and production costs, the threat of the impending GATT and other international trade agreements. Still the advice from some agribusiness sectors centres on the over-worked philosophy that bigger is better and that great efficiency is needed to compete in today's markets. Perhaps it's time to explore a new paradigm for our livestock industry.
Imagine a program that could greatly reduce your present costs of production, eliminate the necessity of owning expensive machinery, reduce capital required for building expansion, enhance the virtues of ecological and conservational farming, appease the major concerns of animal activists and at the same time return greatly improved profits to the farmer. Sound too good to be true? Let me assure that it is possible and all that is required is an openness of mind, and entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to create change.
Consider the scenario of managed (controlled) grazing. The technique developed by Andre/Voisin is now in practice throughout much of New Zealand, Ireland, many parts of Europe and the United States. This technique, although very practical, must
be intensely managed to be profitable and can most certainly be adapted for our climate. Already some Western and Ontario beef producers have begun to make the transition to controlled intensive grazing. The bottom line in any commercial enterprise must be a desire for an improved income. Combine this with the desire to have more family and leisure time and you have a goals that would fit well with most farm families.
How is controlled intensive grazing different from the present day norm of pasturing? First, consider yourself as a grazier (grass farmer)--not a dairy, beef, sheep or hog farmer. Secondly, familiarize yourself with the methods to extend the grazing time by: Allocating fresh paddocks daily, stockpiling pastures for late fall, winter and spring grazing, growing supplemental forage crops for grazing in the traditional, non-productive stages of forage growth. On top of this think about adopting cost-saving procedures such as frost seeding and over-seeding to rejuvenate older pasture cells.
Grazing can also either reduce or eliminate the need for expensive protein supplements, grain or corn silage. The final link is to install dependable, high tension electric fences, provide fresh water in either the paddocks or central lanes and determine how to efficiently utilize the growth patterns of forage for maximum yield and profit. All this should result in a dramatic improvement in both income and life-style. Add to this the noticeable improvement in animal health and performance and you have the ingredients for a very successful enterprise.
In summary ask yourself these questions: Do I wish to continue farming as I am at present--harvesting 75-90% of all livestock feed requirements with expensive machinery and then carrying it the livestock, or, do I want to become a Brazier and use my livestock to harvest the bulk of their feed by means of an extended and managed grazing season leading to improved profitability?
I will follow this article with other ones in future newsletters to cover such topics as paddock and cell development, stocking density, minimum and maximum grazing heights recommendations, the importance of calcium, testing forages for minerals rather than the soil, leader-follow grazing, and set stocking. If there is enough interest we could run a workshop. For more information you could call me at 613-924-2052 or write to me - Hubert Earle, R.R.2 Addison Ont. KOE lA0 or Ted Zettel, 519-366-9982 R.R.1 Chepstow Ont. NOG lK0.
Copyright © 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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