BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. – Looking at doing agriculture differently became the solution when the Peaslee family of Jackson County wanted to add another generation to their farm. When Will Peaslee decided to join his dad, Dave Peaslee, in their dairy operation, they looked at their options. It was then they decided to convert to organics to find the income they needed to add another family.
At a recent field day sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Division of Extension, the Peaslees explained how they operate with 65 dairy cows and 360 acres in production. It started when Will Peaslee spent some time in Chile, where grazing is done 12 months of the year. That gave him good experience and led him to believe it would be easier to move fences than to rely on his not-so-good mechanical skills.
The family uses 20 acres of their home farm for growing corn for the dairy ration. The rest of their farm and rented ground is hay, pasture or beans. With the use of funds from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, they were able to build four-wire perimeter fences and cow crossings across a creek that runs through the farm. Cows are moved every 12 hours; during spring flush the Peaslees bale excess feed.
For the corn ground they use sod near the barn so they have an area to spread manure and provide the crop with nitrogen. This year the field was half sod, half corn-on-corn. Silage was taken off this past fall and followed with no-tilled winter rye. By April there was 6-inch growth for the cows to graze, which they did twice, helping to terminate the rye naturally before planting corn.
The newest tool on the farm is a Great Plains high-speed disk used for shallow tillage. Will Peaslee said his dad never did like to plow.
“And I’ve never learned how!” he said.
By purchasing a high-speed disk they could retire their chisel plow. The new disk takes a lot of power because of its need to go fast enough to properly work. Recommendations are at least 6 miles per hour; it’s most efficient at 10 or 12 mph.
The depth range of the disk is between 3 and 5 inches. Working shallowly preserves the root zone of the soil and maintains the soil’s structure. It doesn’t work well on wet ground and is not effective on crabgrass.
Corn was planted May 31 using a Blue River 92-day dual-purpose hybrid. When growing organic corn it helps to start with a warm seedbed and destroy the first flush of weeds, said Erin Silva, UW-Madison associate professor and organic specialist. There are new hybrids with shorter seasons and good performance for organic farmers, she added.
The Peaslees’ weed control on the corn ground is done first with a rotary hoe on days three and seven after planting, followed by cultivation. The goal for the farm is twice over with the cultivator, which Will Peaslee said has yet to happen. By the time they’re ready to cross the fields with a second round, it’s time to do hay.
“By that time I am ready to say, ‘one pass,’” Dave Peaslee said.
Alfalfa plantings are a work in progress. This year the Peaslees tried spring planting with an oats cover crop and an August seeding after a milo-bean mix that was ensiled at harvest. They find that direct seeding spring alfalfa leads to a mix of alfalfa and foxtail.
Silva pointed out how animals will eat weed seeds left on top of the ground during the winter, whereas fall tillage buries the seeds where animals and birds can’t find them – effectively planting them for the following year. Without animals a weedy field is a cover crop as long as it doesn’t seed out before a hard freeze. She said there’s a lot to learn about crops and weeds.
“We don’t understand the complex relationships and ecology,” she said.
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.