Allow me to recall my “Top 10” Wisconsin GrassWorks Conference memories. The annual event was a big part of my farming life when I discovered using managed grazing to be my farm’s model.
I don’t have exact years attached to these 10 snippets from past conferences. There was a lot of excitement in the early years of the conference. Taking a concept as natural as grazing livestock and doing it in a controlled manner where grass was rationed and allowed to rest was new to many. And it was working for people. It was keeping people on their dairy farms rather than losing them. It was by no means a magic bullet that worked for everyone but for those of us who were turning our farms around because of it, it seemed revolutionary. It was a paradigm shift. Most of us felt like we were on the cusp of something that could only become better. That certainly became true for our farm.
- My best moment was during an early conference, likely about 1994 or 1995. Marvin Metzler, a dairyman from Gilman, Wisconsin, had a very controlled deadpan delivery. He was an early proponent of rotational grazing – and as I talked on the phone with him, he still is. Marv was on a panel with a few others including a University of Wisconsin forage researcher. At one point the question was posed to the panel, “What single piece of advice would you give to a new grazier?” The researcher suggested that everyone should put their farms into ryegrass. I’m pretty sure it was annual ryegrass he was suggesting. Marvin took the microphone and looked at him and said, “And that’s why you’re not farming.” Marvin recalled in our conversation that there was something about the timing; the place erupted with laughter and applause, including the expert.
- Charlie Opitz, a large-scale dairy grazier who was then farming in southwest Wisconsin, told the audience during a discussion of some kind, “If you know how many cows you’re milking, you’re not milking very many.”
- Vance Haugen, recently retired UW-Extension agent and long-time dairy grazier described milking cows in his swing parlor with no manure guards – during what was a messy affair. “I had just bought a new pair of overalls and no way was I gonna let them get dirty. I decided to milk in my birthday suit,” he told the audience. “Now I did wear an apron, mind you, and that made it a bit more, shall I say bearable, when our Amish neighbor came by to use our phone.”
- I received a phone call from Nadia Alber, who was attending the conference for the first time and inquiring about the jam session. We connected, played guitar together and have become lasting friends. She is now the director of the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers and married Chad, whom she met at the 2011 conference. They have two children, Charlie and Beatrix, on their “Ducks in a Row” farm near Arena, Wisconsin.
- Celebrating late into the night, I sang John Prine songs with Jere Mann and Missouri forage specialist Jim Gerrish.
- A woman put a dollar bill in my open guitar case during a jam session.
- Any time was great if spent with Dick Cates, former director of the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers – whether it be in a jam session with him playing the fiddle or connecting during a social hour. He’s such an honest compassionate man who truly cares about others.
- Jim Albers from Tomahawk, Wisconsin, and I discussed political atrocities, with him recalling the protest days in Madison in the late 1960s.
- I remember the bittersweet song “Tennessee Waltz” that Vance Haugen, Nadia Alber, my wife, Wendy, my son, David, and I performed in memory of the late Dennis Cosgrove of UW-River Falls. He was a grazing expert and accomplished musician who never missed the jam sessions.
- I’m leaving this one blank. I’ll be heading to the conference this Friday hopefully in time for the Musings on the Herd session, an “open mic” where folks can share stories. Perhaps a memory will happen there.