UNITY — Leading up to a May 9 pasture walk on his dairy farm, Jimmy Bloome was a little concerned about the state of his pastures.
Bloome took over his family’s farm in the past year and decided to make the transition from conventional dairying and row crops to organic and grazing. Unfortunately, after seeding fields to pasture last year, Bloome was worried a difficult winter took a toll on the work he had done.
But after getting into his pastures with a group of experienced graziers at the walk, he came away a little more optimistic.
“There’s nothing wrong with everything that’s green out here,” said Marathon County Conservation Analyst Bill Kolodziej. “I’d feed the cows to buy it some time and limit the damage before it dries down and gets going and you’ll have a full stand next year.”
Bloome and his wife, Candice, operate an 80-cow dairy farm north of Unity. He had been considering the transition to organic for several years before deciding to make the switch after taking over the farm last year.
“Like any other farm, we were running into financial issues with conventional dairying, and we had to do something different,” he said. “I had been throwing the idea of grazing and going organic around for years.
“It was just time to pull the trigger on it. We really didn’t have a whole lot to lose. It was looking pretty bleak for the future.”
The Bloomes established a grazing plan and finished installing perimeter fencing around 127 acres of newly seeded pastures in 2018 and plan to complete the installation of interior fencing and lanes in 2019. The farm’s 127 acres was cropland until being seeded down for grazing, and Bloome said he harvested hay off it last fall.
Bloome said heading into the pasture walk he was worried he had as few as two plants per square foot survive the winter on his pastures, a situation that wouldn’t have been all that uncommon coming out of this winter according to Jason Cavadini, agronomist with the UW-Madison Marshfield Research Station and a beef grazier in Marathon County.
“We were walking pastures this week, and we had severe winterkill,” Cavadini said. “It’s obvious there was a lot of residual going in the fall because you still see all that material there, but it is dead. So I think some of it was unavoidable.”
Bloome said they typically stay right around 85 milking cows and have about 100 cows and 230 total animals including youngstock.
“My goal is to get everything out of these barns and onto pasture this year,” he said. “We were fortunate we had a lot of Jersey cross coming in, so I think we had the cattle to do it.”
Kolodziej and Cavadini both stressed patience before getting cattle onto the pastures to give everything a chance to dry out and become better established.
“May 17 to May 20 seems about, no matter what the spring has been like, when you get everything running full throttle,” Kolodziej said.
“What you’re looking at is setting yourself up for the future,” Cavadini said.