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Graziers Share at Shipshe Event

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, February 14, 2020

Last week's Northern Indiana Grazing Conference in Shipshewana served up plenty of sage advice about how to manage an intensive grazing system.

Conference attendees numbering over 2,000 heard about the importance of having a positive attitude while dealing with extreme weather.

The helpful tips came with some humor at times, as one panelist shared his unique weed control strategy.

"We have roundup-ready thistles," said Marion Mishler, owner of Twilight Acres, a certified organic farm near LaGrange. "We don't support Monsanto, but we round up the boys and go off and pick the thistle flowers."

Mishler and his wife Marianne have nine children, including eight sons.

After a good rain, Mishler sends the boys into the pasture to pick the blooms from the Canada thistles. Wearing leather gloves, the Mishler boys do what no chemical can accomplish—they pull up the weeds by the roots.

More importantly, the seed-bearing flowers are collected in gunny sacks. During the first two years, the annual effort produced six full sacks. The number of thistles gradually diminished with each year, and in 2019 the boys collected just one gunny sack full of purple blooms. Marion said this shows that perseverance eventually pays off.

Leon Mast, who moderated the panel discussion last Friday, said one of the most important parts of farming is working with your family, and that sentiment was expressed by nearly every person who held the microphone.

The 2019 growing season was a year of extremes, and local graziers overcame a number of obstacles—muddy pastures, delayed planting, drowned-out spots and slow pasture growth, to name a few—to turn a bad situation into a positive one. Mishler said he was unable to harvest his hay on a timely basis due to the wet spring, and he also lost an acre of corn due to ponding. But by the time October rolled around, he was able to turn out his cows on turnips to extend the grazing season. He also harvested and wrapped around 3,000 small square bales.

Other panelists, like Paul Yoder of Middlebury, saw higher weed pressure due to the wet conditions. However, Yoder has lighter soil and was able to plant his corn by May 15. He chooses to plow it because the seeds have a better chance of germinating when they lie in fresh soil.

With his intensive grazing system, he has 2,500 feet of buried water lines running to every paddock and has shade trees to provide some relief to his cows during hot, sunny days.

Noah Martin of Nappanee also has an intensive grazing system. As soon as the grass starts to grow in the spring, he releases the cows every afternoon to graze. He increases the frequency to twice a day once the grass grows faster.

With last spring's wet weather, he was unable to terminate his cover crop in a timely fashion. It was ready to go to seed but conditions were too wet to plow, so he decided to release his heifers and have them graze it. That idea worked out well, and Martin was able to plant his corn.

"That's one thing I like about grazing, the flexibility of taking what you have and making something out of it," he said.

During a year in which it would be easy to complain, the keynote speaker emphasized the importance of being positive, and even passionate.

Robert Yoder, who lives in central New York, said farming is the highest profession that we should aspire to. Noting the large number of factories in northern Indiana, he said that "too much good labor is wasted" on making trailers and recreational vehicles. He said there is a "brain drain" in agriculture.

"Use the talents God gave you to do something worthwhile," he said, adding that he wasn't trying to condemn anyone with a factory job.

His point was that farmers with a 60-cow dairy can make money that competes with a salary from a trailer factory.

Yoder, who is retired, is part of a group of 31 families from Holmes and Wayne counties in Ohio who moved to Madison County, N.Y. in 2006. Fifteen of the 16 farms there are organic; all use the grazing system.

Talking to an audience of Indiana farmers, he said everyone should be involved in farming.

"Cows and land are what we should focus on," he said. "Everything else is extra."

His 101-acre farm in the rolling hills of central New York has 90 acres of pasture, arranged in 13 paddocks.

"Dairy farming is really, basically simple," he said. "You keep your cows well fed. You keep them clean, dry and comfortable, and you milk them" regularly.

He said the small dairy farms in his community work together in partnership. These small farms are doing well because their focus is on the community rather than individuals.

He concluded his remarks by saying the keys to having a positive attitude are being thankful—understanding that your success isn't about you—and avoiding the temptation of comparing yourself to others.

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