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Controlled grazing helps Kentucky farm increase yields

August 4, 2019

For the past two years, Bub and Lakayah Daugherty have been focused on increasing their farm output while minimizing labor and costs, while also creating sustainable land they hope to pass on to their two children someday.

The Daughertys own D and D Farm, in Horse Branch, which consists of about 300 acres on which they have six poultry houses and 52 heads of cattle. They have been working closely with the Ohio County Natural Resource Conservation Service and the University of Kentucky to improve grazing conditions for their cattle. For these efforts, they will be participating in UK’s summer forage tour from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at their farm, at 50 Fox Hunters Road in Horse Branch.

When they first bought their farm in 2012, they spent a few seasons working hard to maintain the status quo. It was a trip to the Midwest in the winter that inspired them to look into how to transition to feeding their cattle fresh grass more during the year so they could stop spending so much time and money creating hay to feed them.

“I call it managed intensive grazing,” Bub Daugherty said as he and his wife walked one of their recently-revitalized pastures last week. He was holding what he is called a grazing stick. It was worn and scratched, with the numbers and letters on the side barely visible. He said it was his third stick as he carries it everywhere with him on his farm. On the stick are computations and measurement equations to help farmers like himself know when to allow cattle to begin and stop grazing specific paddocks.

It all boils down to only giving cattle access to certain paddocks at a time while the other paddocks are allowed time to re-grow, Bub Daugherty said.

He pulled out his phone and demonstrated an application he recently installed that helps him determine where his cows are grazing and for how long they have been there. He said the system has helped him be more efficient with planning.

Traditionally, the Daughertys would allow their cattle to graze until it was down to the dirt, at which point rains would often wash away the grounds. Through installing proper watering and drainage systems, and keeping a tight track of making sure cattle aren’t grazing too much, the Daughertys have been able to maintain healthy pastures.

“We have been able to give these cows their best cut of grass, even well into the hot summer,” he said.

He said an average cattle farmer feeds hay to cows 140 days a year. Last year, by implementing his managed intensive grazing methods, he was able to cut his hay-feeding days, or the days in which cows did not have good, fresh grass to graze, to 70 days. So far this year, they are in line for only having to feed their cattle hay for 40 days.

As Bub Daugherty stood next to some grass in a healthy-looking field of fescue, orchard grass and clover, he held out his grazing stick and measured. The grass reached the top of the grazing stick, about 3 feet, and came up above his waist. That, he said, is almost unheard of during the hottest part of the Kentucky summer.

He said it’s not uncommon to be working in his fields and another farmer will pull up questioning him about how he has been able to maintain such healthy grass growth.

“We’re just letting cows be cows,” he said, explaining that in prairies, wild animals often migrate in order to get the best vegetation.

That is what the Daughertys are allowing their cattle to do but in a more controlled atmosphere.

“It’s sustainable, rejuvenative agriculture,” Lakayah Daugherty said.

She said by ensuring cows are only feeding on certain pastures a few days -- that number is about three days for the Daughertys -- before they move on to another field, they are able to maintain the grass health. The cows essentially aren’t eating the field dry, which allows for a quicker bounce-back.

The Daughertys try to allow their pastures 30 days between grazing in order to grow them back up to complete health.

Along with working with the conservation office and UK, they also attended the school’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Kentucky Grazing School, which helped to give them ideas on how they can move toward year-round grazing.

Representatives from UK were impressed with the results the Daughertys have seen, which is why they wanted them to take part in the tour. Tour attendees will have the chance to view their operation to see the improvements already in place and changes that are occurring. They also will have the opportunity to talk with the Daughertys about their future plans for the farm.

Chris Tuetsch, UK forage extension specialist, said the UK Grain and Forage Center of Excellence wants to offer Kentucky producers as many interactive experiences as possible.

“We encourage participants to come ready with questions and be prepared for a frank and open discussion about various approaches to restoring the productivity of neglected farms,” he said.

Some of the tour topics include watering systems for controlled grazing, novel endophyte tall fescue and building soil fertility with poultry litter.

The tour costs $10 per person at the door. It will occur rain or shine.

For more information on the tour, including directions to the farm, visit the UK forage extension website at http://forages.ca.uky.edu, or contact Rehanon Pampell, UK master grazer coordinator, at rehanon.pampell@uky.edu.

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315.

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