2011-06-09 / Front Page

Dairy Farm Adopts Rotational Grazing

System focus of June 17 event
Robert M. Mellott
CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Lance and Carri Younker milk some of their Jersey herd on a recent afternoon at their dairy farm near Dott. The Younkers have made the switch from conventional grazing to rotational, which has helped to lower their operating costs. 
– PHOTO BY ROBERT M. MELLOTT Lance and Carri Younker milk some of their Jersey herd on a recent afternoon at their dairy farm near Dott. The Younkers have made the switch from conventional grazing to rotational, which has helped to lower their operating costs. – PHOTO BY ROBERT M. MELLOTT In 2006, Dott Village farmers, Lance and Carri Younker started a project to transition their farm from its conventional style of grazing to a rotational one that was promoted and partially funded by government agencies. Although the switch meant more pasture management and herd moving for the Younkers, it ensured more nutrient rich forage and lower operating costs.

In the five years since the Younkers began practicing rotational grazing, on 40 acres of pasture, they have switched their farm from beef to dairy and now milk around 40 Jersey cows.

According to Lance Younker, rotational grazing made the switch easier because it reduced costs in fertilizer, fuel and machinery. And with more nutrient rich forage, protein feed additives and harvested forage are not needed for a high-quality product.

“I’m able to keep my cattle grass-fed through the summer depending on drought,” he said. “I feed them the same that I fed my beef cattle.” When there is a drought, Lance said that he supplements the cattle’s diet with hay when necessary.

Approximately 14,000 feet of exterior fence and 3,600 feet of interior fence were needed to divide the pasture into a sufficient number of paddocks (confined grazing areas). The number of paddocks range from 28 to 33 and typically decreases during drier times of the year.

Lance said that he rotates the herd once a day, depending on pasture growth, “The more rain you get, the more you need to rotate them,” he said. “Recently we’ve been rotating them twice a day.”

Knowing when to rotate is essential for the grazing system. Brad Michael, a district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Fulton County, explained that rotating paddocks too late or too soon lessens the amount of nutrients available to the cattle.

“When a plant seeds, nutrients are lost,” Michael said. “Optimum grazing occurs right before seeding.”

Along with the fencing, the Younkers have installed 10 hydrants, five portable 100-gallon water troughs and one new well.

The total cost of the project was $40,000, and the Younkers received up to 80 percent cost share from Capitol RC&D- Project Grass/Grass Roots, 21st Century Grazing and Chesapeake Bay Program-Special Projects.

The Younkers are also grateful for help and support they have received from local farmers.

“The farm is making more income than it has in 30 years,” Lance said. “But this is still a learning process for me. When one thing doesn’t work, it needs changed.”

On June 17, the Younkers, along with the Fulton County Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, are hosting a Grazing Field Day from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at their Barnetts Run Road farm near Dott. Lunch is provided.

In addition to rotational grazing, other topics on the agenda are direct marketing, business planning and drill calibration.

RSVP by June 14 to the Fulton County Conservation District through phone (717-485-3547), e-mail (fccd@pa.net) or Web site ( fultoncountyconservationdistrict.org).

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