TAYLOR, Wis. – Dissatisfaction with the performance of his pastures led Nathan Kling to use alternative methods to renovate for a more-productive and more-palatable crop for his organic dairy herd. He led in early September a Coulee Graziers pasture walk on his Jackson County farm to demonstrate his results.

Kling’s old pastures had a seven-variety mix that degraded to a mass of tall fescue. The cows will eat it in the spring when it’s nice and tender, and they will pick out any clovers. But the next pass through they avoid the tall fescue because the leaves are sharp and coarse. If forced to graze it they don’t produce. But he said it does make good hay that the cows enjoy.

Because he has about a mile of pasture in both directions from his barn, the cows do a lot of walking.

“(But) it doesn’t do any good to get the cows over here if they don’t produce,” Kling said as he motioned to his paddocks.

His solution was to plant a mix of sorghum-sudangrass, red clover and Italian ryegrass for grazing. He chisel-plowed, disked and added nitrogen in the form of fresh turkey manure at 2 tons to the acre. It was planted June 10 and first grazed 40 days later by his best-producing cows. The cows liked it, he said, and he thought if he was doing grass-fed milk it would work well.

He grazed his dry cows and heifers through July 25; he was doing his third round Sept. 3 when he hosted the pasture walk. He had planned to do another graze the first week of October before drilling rye or triticale. He plans to follow in the spring with reed canary, meadow fescue and clovers.

“I have a lot of pasture I want to change,” he said.

Kling’s goal is to take advantage of weather conditions and growth cycles by having cool- and warm-weather crops at their appropriate timing.

The fields were rutted from the cows due to wet weather early in the season, he said, and he thought he grazed it too hard.

“(But) it came back nicely,” he said.

He feeds an acre a day; when the herd is finished there is nothing left but some of the stalks. Regrowth is at a bud that sticks barely above the ground; as long as they don’t munch down to the bud it grows back.

He drilled the sorghum-sudangrass seed in at 15 pounds to the acre, which he thought was not enough. The recommendation from Albert Lea Seed House, where he purchased his seed, is 25 to 30 pounds per acre. He attributes the reduced seeding rate to problems with foxtail, and wet ground causing compaction.

At the first graze the sorghum-sudangrass was 4 to 5 feet tall. With single-strand poly wire around the paddock the cows can’t see the fence but they know it’s there. They eat the forage down to 15 inches.

“I was surprised how much they didn’t waste,” Kling said. “I thought they would knock more down. Maybe it’s because of how much I planted.”

He warns nitrates can be a problem when feeding sorghum-sudangrass if it’s thick and lush with the onset of dry weather. The plants pull up nitrogen. If they stop growing that concentrates the nitrogen.

But Steve Okonek, University of Wisconsin-Division of Extension agent, said he thought Kling’s use of turkey manure could prevent that.

Nitrates can also be a problem in the fall. Graziers should wait seven to 10 days because freezing causes the cells to explode, creating prussic acid.

“I’m happy with it so far,” Kling said. “It’s an experiment we did this year and it seems to be working. We’ll try it again next year.

LeeAnne Bulman writes about agriculture from her farm overlooking the beautiful Danuser Valley on Wisconsin’s west coast. When not writing she helps her husband on their small grain and beef farm.