Current Progressive Dairy digital edition
Advertisement

Wisconsin dairyman finds grazing stressful, until ...

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 March 2017
Chad Sime, center, milks with Dale McCullick, left, and they are often helped by Chad’s 8-year-old son, Carson.

Chad Sime was ready to quit grazing. It was labor-intensive and stressful to him and his cows. He says there was no “natural flow” to it, and the inconvenience of moving cows was actually hampering his decision-making when it came to things like soil conservation.

Before giving up grazing altogether on his farm, which is located in the hills of southwest Wisconsin, Sime hosted a pasture walk and asked his fellow graziers for advice. Using aerial photos, they created new lanes that followed the natural contours of the land and removed all 90-degree turns.

advertisement

advertisement

A few simple changes not only has him continuing grazing on his operation, it has him planting additional pastures.

Sime says it only took about a day to set up the new lanes, and most of that time was spent re-routing high tensile wire.

In 2004, Sime graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Platteville, majoring in animal science with a dairy emphasis. He then returned home to farm with his parents, Alan and Sherrie Sime, near Gays Mills, Wisconsin. They started rotational grazing, but Sime says, “There was not a lot of pre-thought put into setting it up.”

Chad Sime’s parents, Alan and Sherrie, purchased the farm in 1994. Chad started farming there when he graduated from college in 2004.

They learned most of what they initially learned about grazing through trial and error. They learned quickly that a good fence is a “hot” fence, and that it is much easier to watch for natural heats. He also really liked the fact that the cows did the harvesting and left their manure where it needed to be, and they paid less for harvesting. “But we really should have paid more attention to lane setup,” Sime says.

advertisement

His parents had purchased the 240-acre farm in 1994. Sime bought his first cattle while in junior high and started renting the operation from his dad in 2007 after his dad started working off the farm. He bought the herd from his dad in 2009.

Of the 240 acres, 110 acres are usable for the milking herd. The remainder is rougher ground used for heifers and beef. They rent an additional 170 acres, of which about 35 acres are pasture and the remainder is used for crops. They grow corn, hay, small grains such as winter wheat, and soybeans.

Since making changes to the lane setup, Sime says the difference is “night and day.” Now he is focusing on his pasture planning in stages and making sure things are right before going to the next step. He noted that since the cows are less stressed, they have responded with eating more, and things are much more efficient for Sime.

“When I’m in a hurry, it’s now quicker and less stressful to run the cows out to pasture, whereas we used to mix a TMR instead.”

Most of his pastures are a mix of red clover, ryegrass and orchardgrass. He usually seeds it with oats as a cover crop while the pasture is getting established. He plans on seeding another 10 acres into pasture this spring, which will increase their grazing area to about 50 acres.

Sime says the pasture he will plant will likely be a similar mix to what he has used in the past, with some better cool-season species to extend the grazing season. He is also considering a pasture with sorghum-sudan to get them through the hot, dry weeks of summer.

advertisement

Other plans for future are to improve the new lanes with rock, gravel or perhaps concrete, and split the paddocks into smaller parcels of land, which are currently 2 to 12 acres, splitting them with temporary breakwire so the cows will be fresh grazing more often.

The cows return to the buildings for water, and Sime says most of the paddocks are close enough to the farmstead so this system works well.

Sime’s cows are “part-time grazers.” He feeds them a TMR every morning, usually consisting of a 50-50 mix of corn silage and haylage, 3 to 4 pounds of bean meal with a mineral mixed in and 12 to 17 pounds of ground corn. He reduces the amount of haylage during the grazing season. When the cows cannot be on pasture, they are fed a second TMR at night.

In the winter, they are housed in freestalls and on bedded pack. In the summer, they overnight in a 5-acre permanent pasture.

Sime milks with Dale McCullick, who has farmed with him as an employee since 2014. They are currently milking about 80 cows in their 51-stall barn. They hope to increase their herd numbers to about 100. They have many heifers freshening and will likely purchase some as well.

Bulls are chosen for strength in feet and legs, as well as udders. Sime has been using bulls with the A2A2 trait, which results in milk that is more digestible for those who are lactose-intolerant. He believes there will be more of a market for that in the future, which will result in a premium.

Sime and his wife, Sarah, have four young children. He hopes his farm continues to become more efficient and profitable. If one of their children decides to get into farming, he also hopes things can be set up in a way that they will not be overloaded with debt.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Chad Sime, center, milks with Dale McCullick, left, and they are often helped by Chad’s 8-year-old son, Carson. 

PHOTO 2: Chad Sime’s parents, Alan and Sherrie, purchased the farm in 1994. Chad started farming there when he graduated from college in 2004. Photos by Kelli Boylen.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer based out of Waterville, Iowa.

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS