Having access to his local grazing group’s expertise on topics ranging from breaking new ground to managing fescue makes “all the difference in the world” to Mountain Grove, MO, dairyman Mickey Moxley.
“The graziers have always been open about sharing information,” Moxley says. “A lot have been doing it for a long time and have already made a lot of mistakes. If your learning curve is steep, the group can save you a lot of grief.”
The various grazing organizations across the country operate under similar principles. They start with a common interest, share hard-won experience and research the latest industry techniques while working toward an atmosphere of fellowship and support. Meetings may rotate among members’ farms to allow for on-site analyses, problem solving and equipment or technique trials. Some groups regularly invite guest speakers.
Moxley’s group, South Central Dairy Graziers, grew from local farmers’ interest in “new ways to dairy without having so much off-farm input,” says Ted Probert, the University of Missouri Extension dairy specialist who helps facilitate it.
“We have some veterans at grazing,” Probert explains. “We’ll get our group out to a place, look it over and make some suggestions on how it could be laid out and developed. We’ve had a lot of people take advantage of that advice. That makes an impact.”
Even so, the group’s popularity surprises Probert. “You think, maybe this’ll go on for a few years and they’ll lose interest, but that doesn’t happen. We have more and more people all the time. It’s kind of amazing.”
Not all grazing groups focus on improving pasture management. The Indiana-based Prograsstinators, co-founded by dairy producers Gary Burley, Warsaw, NY, and Dave Forgey, Logansport, IN, concentrates on financial management.
“Gary was already using Cornell University’s Dairy Farm Business Summary in his dairy operation,” recalls Forgey. “So he brought that into the mix.” The summary helps farmers share financial information confidentially with other farmers to compare what is or isn’t profitable.
At its peak, Prograsstinators attracted members from all over the country, making farm visits a challenge, Forgey says. So, four years ago, he formed a regional group called Grassroots. It fosters greater interaction among members, but retains Prograsstinators’ financial emphasis.
“Visiting some of the farms in the Prograsstinators group generally ended up taking four days,” Forgey recalls. “The Grassroots group can do it all in a day. We specifically point out what they can do to help themselves get better at what they do.”
Hearing fellow members share their successes brings Forgey a sense of satisfaction. “Every farm in the group has found a way to increase net profit by ideas that have been shared, by things they’ve seen on other farms, by financial numbers that assure them this is what’s happening and why,” he says. “It fits the goals we had – to share all the things that we can use to better ourselves.”
Moxley’s group gives him the needed confidence to try something new, he says.
“They have experience at doing things that I wouldn’t have dared try. If 10 guys tell you, ‘Yeah, you can do it,’ you’ll go ahead and at least look at it seriously,” he says.