Dave Forgey is a pasture-based dairyman who strolls through his fields often, moving cows from paddock to paddock and checking pasture quality. But the purpose of one walk, made every 10 days, is to take exact measurements of what his 175-cow Holstein herd will be grazing.
Forgey, of Logansport, IN, uses GPS to help determine just what his cows consume. Three times a month, he takes two hours to pasture-walk his 400 acres, measuring dry matter available in each of his paddocks. Using a pasture stick or plate meter, he records data on a handheld PC and later downloads it into his office computer.
On a daily basis, he uses a simple $200 GPS unit to take before-and-after measurements of the areas his cows graze, along with plate meter readings to determine the amount of forage. The Holsteins are turned on fresh pasture every 12 hours.
“Our goal was to know how much dry matter the cows were consuming on the farm, how much dry matter was actually growing and to be able to know in advance if we have too much grass and need to harvest some. Or if we have too little grass and need to supplement with stored feed,” he explains. “It works extremely well.”
To help convert the numbers into useful data, Forgey's computer-analyst son, Brad, developed a computer program called Pasture Tracker. The software, just coming on the market, reports daily and total dry matter, days of feed, and dry-matter grazed and harvested.
“It's already shown me that we can justify tilling up an older pasture and improving the stands every few years. That's because our yield increases on new-seeded forages compared to older pastures,” says Forgey, who started grazing his herd 15 years ago.
He has collected pasture data for four years; last winter he and Brad refined Pasture Tracker to the point where they felt they could merchandise it.
“The whole point of the program was to keep it simple so we get good calculations without a lot of time and effort involved,” Forgey adds.
So far, a few copies of the software have been sold to graziers handpicked by Forgey. “That way we will be able to get some good data and see how well farmers are doing with the grass they are growing,” he says.
“We think the program has a lot of potential. We've got a lot more we'd like to add onto it after it starts to sell. We want to look at rainfall and degree days and fertility added, to know how they impact the growth of the pasture.”
In the meantime, Forgey continues to walk pastures. His mainstay is orchardgrass-clover mixes. He's experimenting with ryegrasses, reed canarygrass and soft-leaf fescues while considering how best to get kura clover established in reed canarygrass.