MINERAL POINT — Twenty-five years ago, Bert Paris of rural Belleville decided to try something new. He wanted to do things differently than they were done on the farm where he grew up — and decided to try managed grazing for his small herd of 25 cows.
When the “grazing bug” hit Wisconsin in the 1990s, Paris said, they “never looked back.”
“If I can make my life simpler, I will do it,” he said.
Paris was one of three farmers who shared their experiences with grazing at the Economics of Dairy Grazing Spring Workshop on April 6. Tim Vosberg, a dairy farmer in the Cuba City/Kieler area, and Altfrid Krusenbaum, a now retired dairy farmer with 25 years of managed grazing experience, also spoke about the benefits of managed grazing and how they use it on their farms.
Vosberg’s farm operation “started with a pickup truck and a dream in 1999.” He has been grazing cows since 2004 and said he has learned a lot from pasture walks that he participated in.
Paris, too, agreed on the importance of pasture walks and relying on farmers as a resource.
“Twenty-five years ago, that was the only resource,” he said.
Krusenbaum echoed comments from the two farmers, stating mentors in the industry and farm internships helped him become successful.
Krusenbaum described himself as a “city slicker” from Germany. After studying dairy science, he became hooked on farming, eventually renting farmland to start his own enterprise.
“We started grazing because our first child was born,” Krusenbaum said, explaining how he and his wife chased around a large herd that they also fed six times a day. “We said to ourselves, there must be a simpler way.”
In his first year, he started with 30 acres of managed grazing pasture. The following year, it jumped to 60 acres. By the fourth year, the whole farm had been converted into grass.
In his retirement, Krusenbaum now works with the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program, helping the next generation of farmers learn all the skills to successfully operate a dairy.
“We envision this creating community and bringing prosperity back to rural communities over time,” he said.
One of the apprentices in the program is Meagan Farrell, Paris’ daughter. For the past year and a half, she has been transitioning into the role of farm owner and operator.
“Growing up on the farm, you knew the cows moved around, but I didn’t know the knowledge behind it,” Farrell said. “There was a method to it. Much more goes into it than I thought.”
Managed grazing was once a new idea for Farrell, but it is not one she will be doing away with once she takes over the farm. Grazing has made it easier and more manageable for her family — and no one has to be on the tractor 24/7.
“I’m excited to learn some of the newer things and how the farm can change,” she said.
Gene Schriefer, Iowa County UW-Extension ag agent, also shared his observations of grazing over the past 43 years. Instead of tilling the field, growing the crop, harvesting the crop, feeding the crop to the cow, milking the cow and collecting the check, consider a simpler way, he said. Let the sunshine and rain, which don’t cost the farmer anything, grow the pasture that feeds your cow, milk the cow and collect the check.
He has seen other benefits of managed grazing, too, such as cleaner cows, cleaner tails, lower health costs, cows that stay in the herd longer, families that spend more time together, a sense of community that has grown through the sharing of knowledge and resources and the observation that “things last longer, including dairymen.”
“The demise of grazing was forecasted 20 years ago, but it’s still going,” he said.
“There’s optimism for the future, and we’ve seen this since the 1980s,” he said. “As we graze more, the pastures get better. And anything a cow can harvest will be cheaper than what we can mechanically harvest.”