Sam and Danni Baird find value in NRCS programs in the improvement of their grazing program
As Sam and Danni Baird drive through their 220-acre family farm, they admire their bluestem grass and lament their blackberry weed.
In seven years, the Willard, Mo., couple has transformed their acreage into a showcase for farmers interested in rotational grazing. The Bairds know the grasses growing in their fields like the back of their hands. Years of seminars, classes and hard work taught them how to raise their Braunvieh herd using management intensive grazing practices.
The Bairds leaned on the expertise of regional agricultural experts and the assistance of state and federal programs to develop, implement and fine-tune their rotational grazing system.
“The primary reason we got into rotational grazing was to cut feed costs and to be more profitable,” Sam explained.
In addition to the cost savings, the Bairds discovered other benefits to converting to management intensive grazing.
Sam and Danni started by attending a three-day grazing school offered through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and MU Extension.
After completing the grazing school seven years ago, the Bairds moved full throttle to converting their traditional farm into a rotational grazing operation.
Before the Bairds could realize their goal of saving money through rotational grazing, they first had to spend money
The upfront cost of installing underground pipes, electricity, waterers, fences and more was intimidating.
In an effort to recoup some of their financial investment, Sam and Danni applied for assistance through NRCS’, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Through EQIP, recipients receive financial and technical assistance for projects that benefit the environment and address natural resource concerns.
Through EQIP, the Bairds received reimbursement for a significant portion of costs to install a rotational grazing system. In addition, agency experts assisted Sam and Danni with planning, installing and modifying their system.
“The people are the best resource. The different practices and programs give us an excuse to be involved with those people on a very regular basis,” Sam said.
The Bairds attribute their success to the advice and expertise of the NRCS, Greene County SWCD and MU Extension employees who continue to guide the Bairds every step of the way.
“We get a lot of support and encouragement knowing we have someone to call with questions,” Danni said.
Sam added, “We would have tried it (rotational grazing) but we would not have been successful without them.”
It took the Bairds three years to get rotational grazing practices up and running on their farm. They setup the system on a 110-acre area, dividing their pastures into paddocks that range in size from 4 1/2 to 13 acres. They manage 30 momma cows that are either a registered Braunvieh or an Angus-based commercial cow.
Sam recently analyzed and compared the stocking rates of their farm, Baird Braunvieh. First, he took a look at his stocking rates from five years ago. Based on his records, he calculated that during that year, which he considered an average grazing season, 7 1/2 acres supported one cow.
He then reviewed his records from last year, which was a year fraught with drought. This time, due to the Bairds’ established management intensive grazing system, 5 acres supported one cow.
“We saw a 50 percent increase in production. That is how you buy 50 acres for $500 an acre,” Sam commented.
For the most part, the Bairds rely on the manure from their cattle as a natural fertilizer for their fields.
“We typically let the animals do the work,” Sam explained. But after last year’s drought they decided to spread nitrogen on some of their pastures to promote growth.
Another benefit of their rotational grazing system is needing less hay. Historically, the Bairds feed hay December through March. However, the bountiful rain this year has produced lush fields, giving the Bairds hopes of feeding hay for only three months instead of the typical four months.
Each year, Sam and Danni make at least one significant improvement to their operation. Four years ago, they worked to establish warm season grasses in two of their paddocks. But they soon found out that planting big bluestem can cause a farmer to get a bit anxious.
As they had on past pasture improvements, the couple turned once again to the aide of Mark Green, lead resource conservationist at the USDA – NRCS.
The bluestem grasses eventually emerged. Now, the Bairds enjoy the benefits of fast-growing summer grass when the fescue slows down.
Their success with the EQIP program motivated the Bairds to seek out other opportunities to partner with NRCS and Greene County SWCD. In addition to utilizing EQIP for their rotational grazing system, the Bairds tapped into EQIP for assistance with forest management on their farm.
In addition, Sam and Danni got involved with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), through NRCS. Through CSP, the Bairds built fence around a pond, planted trees near their house and barn area, planted red clover into a fescue-based hayfield and installed an inground water tank.
Now they are working with the agencies through an agroforestry program to provide their cattle additional shade.
“When you start dividing these paddocks up into smaller areas, in the hot summer we not only have to give them access to water, we also have to give them access to shade,” Sam explained. In the next couple of years, the Bairds plan to plant 400 trees in the middle of their fields.
The Bairds operate their farm with sustainability in mind. Their rotational grazing practices naturally improve the quality of the soil and grass in their fields.
Sam and Danni share their successes and failures with other farmers wanting to implement similar operations. They host fieldtrips for farmers attending grazing school, open their fields for high school agriculture grass competitions, and willingly share anything they have learned to anyone who asks.