FERRYVILLE — Turning off Highway 27 in Crawford County, the road became narrower and narrower as attendees to a recent pasture walk, hosted by Great River Graziers and Kickapoo Grazing Initiative, approached Fenn’s Folly — 40 acres of woods and pasture owned by the ambitious Amy Fenn.
For the past three years, Fenn has been tackling a large silvopasture project, and with the help of several locals, has begun clearing trees, installing a perimeter fence and considering which seed to plant under the canopy once it’s ready.
Fenn had worked at a Madison library for years before buying the land near Ferryville, with plans to turn the property’s hayfields and unmanaged woods into savanna and silvopasture, a management system that incorporates trees and pasture for food and shelter for livestock. She already has four sheep on the property and a guardian dog for them, but also has ideas to add goats and cattle and a few more guardian dogs to watch over her animals as they graze the hills of Crawford County.
About 20 people attended the third pasture walk held at Fenn’s Folly on Aug. 13, where topics included updates on her silvopasture project and a specially selected 8–wire perimeter fence to suit her grazing needs. Randy Mell, a former forester and current Natural Resources Educator with UW-Extension, and Diane Mayfield, a graduate student with a silvopasture focus for her research, were special guests to the pasture walk, sharing their expertise with those who attended.
Fenn shared how over the past three years, she has been thinning out woods in preparation for an oak–hickory savanna with grass growing under the canopy for a grazing operation. Her sheep have been eating a lot of the burdock but she had questions on what else they would eat if let loose in the woods. She has also been removing trees to allow more sunlight to hit the ground in her woods, with Mell suggesting to the group when considering which trees to cut in a silvopasture scenario, leave well structured, larger diameter trees like oaks, hickories and cherries and cut others such as ash, elm, birch and aspen.
“Work with what you have,” Mell said. “If you really want shade, find trees that have already been placed by nature that are suitable for the site.”
He also recommended watching how the sun moves through the woods on a sunny day to see which trees may be good to keep for her silvopasture. Where the woods are located — whether east, west, south or north facing — may help determine which areas are better for silvopasture.
Fenn was also eager to show attendees her newly erected 8–wire perimeter fence, meant to keep future livestock and guardian dogs in the pasture. Fenn said she removed about 15 strands of rusty, old barbed wire fencing before she and two others began installing the special tinsel fencing. Although it may have been expensive to install, it will be very low maintenance and last a long time, Mell said.
Cynthia Olmstead, Kickapoo Grazing Initiative project coordinator, explained how the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program is the number one program that helps fund grazing initiatives in Crawford County, and Fenn is no exception. She has used EQIP several times, most recently receiving grant funding through the program to add seed to her pasture once it’s completed.
Fenn has also used resources from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; she has found that their programs are most helpful with her silvopasture project, as compared to programs with other organizations such as the Department of Natural Resources, whose programs aim more to keep animals off land rather than on.
Four pasture walks remain on this year’s schedule for the Great River Graziers and Kickapoo Grazing Initiative. The next pasture walk will be Aug. 27 at Eric Hammell’s farm, 18612 Halls Branch Road, Gays Mills, and will focus on the challenges and successes in using brush management techniques in pastures to improve forage quality and accessibility to cattle.
For more information, visit http://www.kickapoograzinginitiative.com/events.html or contact Olmstead at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-606-6022.