Northern Grazing Workshops

By Emily Potter, Beef North Project Assistant

BFO has had the opportunity to partner with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) to host twilight pasture tours throughout the north that are focused on beef and sheep grazing management. I was able to attend the first round of workshops and give an update on what we’ve been working on at BFO and with the Beef North project.

The first workshop was June 12th in the Nipissing District near Lavigne, Ontario. We were warmly welcomed by Dave and Chantal Lewington and their children, Jake, Olivia and Emma. Dave and Chantal moved north 13 years ago and raise grass-fed beef, lamb and goat. Because their operation is very grass-finished focused, they run an intensive rotational grazing management system, moving the animals at least once a day. Soon they’ll be moving to a twice-a-day moving system. Dave’s philosophy is to “move when the grass says to move them” and to get away from overgrazing, leaving enough grass behind as “armour” on the soil. This method also helps control unwanted plants, such as thistles, because it minimizes unwanted seed-to-soil contact.

They are working with around 60 acres of pasture divided into small paddocks, and their goal is to be able to allow 40-45 days of rest in each spot before returning to graze it again. They also have some oats, barley and peas to graze during the summer slump in August when they might be short on grass, as well as a cover crop mix (no-till oats, corn, sunflower, cowpeas, millet, sorghum, soybeans, rye and more). We were toured around the different paddocks to see the cover crops being used, the pasture regrowth at different areas, and the rotational grazing systems for the cows, as well as for the sheep and goats.

June 13th brought us to the Powassan area (Parry Sound District) for a workshop at the farm of Ray and Susan Ford, where we toured the pastures where their sheep and cattle were rotationally grazing. Ray and Susan have 80 acres that they are able to use for a mixed grazing system with their 100 sheep and 7 cattle. They try to graze their main pasture 3 times a year. Last year they were able to have livestock on pasture for 210 days (usually on pasture from the 3rd week in May to the 1st or 2nd week in December). What makes their pastures unique is that they haven’t been turned over since the 1980’s or 2000’s.

We headed to Val Gagné for June 27th, to the farm of Andrew Weber. Andrew is a Mennonite who owns a local farm supply shop (Railside General Supplies), where farmers can purchase everything from gates, feeders, bags of mineral, and more. We had around 60 people attend this grazing workshop. Andrew provided a wagon for us to ride out to the pasture on, and out there we had the opportunity to see a strip grazing system using tumble wheels. Andrew demonstrated how the tumble wheels work by giving his cattle a new strip of pasture.

Andrew also has a really unique watering system for his cattle. He used an old tractor to build a portable water trough, salt and mineral feeder, creep feeder, and grooming brushes for his cattle. He moves the tractor along the water line with his cattle so the water trough on the tractor can connect to the water line. The tractor has a tarp to protect it from the sun and rain, and also features a covered storage area for bags of creep feed and salt & mineral.

At the workshops, we were able to hear from Megan Van Schaik (OMAFRA Beef Specialist) on managing beef on pasture and mineral supplementation, Jillian Craig (OMAFRA Sheep Specialist) on managing sheep and parasites on pasture, and Barry Potter (OMAFRA Agriculture Development Advisor) on potential grass mixtures. Christoph Wand (OMAFRA Agriculture Sustainability Specialist) joined the other speakers in Powassan and Val Gagné to talk about providing mineral supplements on pasture. I talked about some of the work we’ve been doing at BFO and with the Beef North project over refreshments. Overall, the workshops went very well, had approximately 60 people participate in total, and I was able to learn a lot about grazing from the other speakers.

As part of expanding beef production in the north, it’s important to recognize the need to provide learning opportunities for farmers. These workshops gave producers the chance to see a different type of grazing system at work, and they were able to take home ideas they could apply to their own operations. They can use the information to diversify their operation and maybe get more use out of their pastureland.

We will be partnering with OMAFRA on more grazing workshops throughout the north later this summer. Keep an eye on our social media accounts to see if a workshop is coming to a location near you!

Additional Grazing Information:

Click here for more information on grazing livestock and pasture management.

Click here for more details on rotational grazing systems.

Click here to learn more about protecting livestock from predators.

Click here to learn more about trace mineral supplementation on pasture.

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