A balancing act is at the forefront for farmers and ranchers when it comes to keeping their livestock fed while maintaining a healthy food supply in their pastures.
The MU Extension gathered ag operatives from around the state Saturday at the Knights of Columbus hall outside St. Martins to discuss grazing methods and practices that will help keep animals healthy and growing without depleting the vegetation they feed on.
Break-out sessions ranged from a Q and A on grass-based sheep and goat production to pasture weed and herbicide control. Keynote speaker Ashley McCarty spoke of the importance of communicating the importance of farming to students, combatting misconceptions of agriculture and raising awareness of how family farming operations really function.
Chuck and Tauy Scott came all the way from Platt County to learn how to better care for their 70 cattle. The farming couple said they attend as many conferences as possible so they can stay up-to-date on new agricultural techniques and technology. "You've got to stay ahead of the curve," Tauy Scott said.
Cole county residents Robert and Cameron Massman, a father-son cattle farming duo with about 60 head, attended the conference to learn more about rotational grazing. That topic was fielded by Mark Kennedy, a retired state grazinglands specialist, in his morning break-out session entitled, Rotational Grazing 101.
Rotational grazing involves moving a herd to different isolated segments of pasture. In doing so, livestock are likely to consume more of the edible plants in a segment of pasture without allowing overgrowth to occur. The herd is then moved onto the next segment before they eat edible plants down too far, which would hamper future growth.
The practice also puts farmers in regular contact with their livestock. This increases the animals' docility and decreases their stress levels when people are working with the animals, which helps keep livestock fat and healthy.
"You want animals taking one bit off as many plants as possible, without letting them want to take that second bite, which could harm the plant," Kennedy said.
The Massmans said they learned from the session, but it will take some work to put what they gained into practice, like adding more segments to their pasture. "It gave you a starting point," Robert Massman said. "We haven't gotten all the way there yet, but we are working on it."
Sue Waltrip, of Hams Prairie in Callaway County, came to the conference to help her decide if she should add native forage or stick with the fescue she has in her pastures. She attended grassland management consultant Steve Clubine's Grazing Native Forages session and livestock specialist Ted Cunningham's Tall Fescue and Herd Management session to help determine which method would best suite her land.
"They are two different trains of thought, which was good to hear at once, since I'm trying to make a decision," Waltrip said. "I'm going to research it more cost-wise, but I think the native (forage) would be more expensive."
During the keynote presentation, Missouri Farmers Care Executive Director McCarty played videos produced by Chipotle and PETA which exemplified the dark outlook people can have about modern agriculture, focusing on factory farming and large-scale operations that do not reflect life on small-scale family farms. McCarty said it is important for farmers to share their values and experiences with the public to show a brighter side of the food supply.
Missouri Farmers Care is also trying to get more agricultural education in elementary schools. Last year, the group educated about 70,000 third-graders for 10 weeks, an hour per week. "We are trying to bring a bit of the farm into the classroom," she said.
The last presentation of the conference, Pasture Weed and Herbicide Control, was led by Paul Duffner.
Duffner preached the importance of properly applying topical herbicides to control brush. No matter how much experience a farmer has, it is always important to wear proper safety equipment when using cutting tools like chainsaws and read the directions on applying herbicides, because chemical changes can be made over time that could alter its proper application.
Duffner also spoke on controlling sericea lespedeza, an invasive legume species that's becoming an increasing concern for farmers, because it grows quickly and can choke out valuable food plants like fescue.
"Either you have it or you're going to have it," Duffner said of the legume.
Duffner said controlling the species requires long-term commitment to broadcast spraying, which delivers herbicide to the entire surface of a pasture.