TAYLOR — Steve and Pat Kling were celebrating an anniversary during the May 16 Coulee Graziers Pasture Walk hosted by the couple.
As Steve poured attendees a little wine, he explained it had been 25 years since the couple started grazing on their Jackson County farm.
It’s a milestone, Pat said, the couple is happy to have reached.
After battling idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease that caused difficulty breathing for about six years, Steve had a lung transplant a little more than three years ago. That keeps him out of the barn, Pat said, so she took over the milking on the farm, while Steve continues to handle duties in the fields.
“He can’t be around the manure,” Pat said. “But he can still drive tractor and do all that stuff.
“But he has his wife to do the milking. I’m just thankful to still have him around.”
The Klings graze 67 acres of the 160-acre farm and raise corn and hay on the rest of the farm. They rent another 250 acres they use for crops.
“We started grazing on 8 or 10 acres that was kind of a wet area,” Steve said. “A lot of it was hay fields where the alfalfa died out and we just kept grazing it and there were a couple cornfields where we put some pasture mix, but the rest we never added any seed.
“I think managing the pasture, as far as rotating the animals, is the key part of it, not the trying to introduce new grass species. The pastures are pretty dependable where if grass is short or the legumes die, something else fills in.”
Steve said he rotates paddocks at least once a day, and he credits the cattle with keeping the pastures healthy.
“There’s this holistic part and the microbiology in the soil, and it seems to have something to do with simulating the plant growth when they’re chomping off the plant and leaving a little bit too,” Steve said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship that works pretty well.”
The Klings have a milking herd of about 45 Holstein and Fleckvieh mix cattle and another 60 heifers.
“They say the Fleckvieh are more efficient on the same amount of food,” Steve said.
They milk twice a day in a homemade swing-8 parallel parlor built in the early 2000s. Steve said they were doing a remodel on the barn in the 1980s and considered a parlor at that point, but it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. By building the parlor themselves, he said the cost came to about $35,000.
“We’ve had this for about 15 years,” Steve said. “I know that we would not be still milking if we were still in a tie-stall.”
The Klings’ farm was certified organic in November. They ship organic milk to Westby Cooperative Creamery, which is an organic milk buyer for Saputo and was in need of organic milk when the Klings made the switch.
“The day after we got our certification they were here to pick up milk,” Steve said. “(The price) is double what we were getting before switching.”
Pat said they decided to make the switch from conventional to organic after she took over the milking. She said Steve had watched their son, Nathan, make the transition to organic on his nearby farm. Because they had been grazing for so long, Pat said, the transition has been relatively smooth. They stopped spraying the crops following Steve’s surgery.
The Klings have worked to revitalize the Coulee Graziers. The group offers a pasture walk series for farmers to visit and network about pasture growth and grazing systems throughout the Coulee Region area.
“Steve likes the walks for the chance to see how other farmers are doing things,” Pat said.
For information about future Coulee Graziers pasture walks, contact UW-Extension Jackson County Agriculture Agent Jamie Pfaff at 715-284-4257, ext. 4, or firstname.lastname@example.org.