Trantham's Sustainable 12 Aprils Dairy Grazing Program: A Top Farm that Almost Went Under

Uploaded by cookingupastory on 19.03.2011

[ Quacking, clucking, insect sounds ]
[ Background farm sounds ]
>> Farmer: [Hooting, cows moo
in distance] Come on girls, come on!
I am a farmer, and I grow crops, not grass.
I grow a crop to feed my cows.
Only thing I don't do is -- is I don't have a mowing machine,
I don't have a chopper, I don't have a blower,
I don't have a solo.
They do it all for me and say, Tom we're full.
We're good.
We're going to get you a hundred pound milk tonight.
[ Quiet farm sounds ]
[ Background music ]
>> Narrator: Bringing the people behind our food to life.
[ Background farm sounds, cows mooing ]
>> Farmer: Beginning of '87,
I was in the procedure of bankruptcy.
They were actually wanting me to sign the papers
to release everything over and take the farm.
And I knew the amount of money I owed, I would never be able
to pay it in my entire life.
[Background machinery sound] I was denied a loan to buy up seed
and chemicals and chemical fertilizer.
And so I was done for, and I knew it.
My son and daughter'd both left the farm,
because there was nothing left here.
I had been the top producer and up in the top 10 always,
and that was working beyond my facilities and abilities.
So it was over for me.
And then my cows, actually, I say they got together
and had a meeting, and they just busted out and went
over to an April pasture that was actually --
I was going to plow and put into sorghum or whatever.
But it was clover, and there was some wild oats
and all, but it was just wild.
I was so disgusted.
I just throwed my hat down, stomped my hat.
That's it.
I quit. I am no longer a farmer.
Those are not my cows.
If they get out and get hit by a car,
I don't know whose they are, but they're not mine.
And that's the way I felt.
So I went in the house and turned on the TV,
and it was the awfulest program I know I've ever seen.
I don't remember the name of it.
All My Money, or Too Many Children,
or something like that.
But when I saw that, I said, That's the other side, Tom.
And this is this side.
Go back and get this thing -- do whatever you gotta do.
Milk 'em till they come get you.
[Background birds chirping] So I milked them that night.
And when they came in the barn that night,
instead of being confined all day and night, they had a more
of a pleasant odor about them.
They'd been out in that clover and all that beautiful stuff.
And the next morning, when I milked,
and we were up 200 pounds of milk.
And when you're the top producer in the state,
and you've had 17 different items you put in your mix ration
to make milk, and they make 200 pounds more,
and you done nothing different, something happened.
I went over in the pasture, and I noticed
that they'd grazed the top half of the plant --
of that -- of those plants.
I know, as a farmer, I would've mowed
that field and put it in hay.
I would've mowed it into the ground down
and baled the whole thing.
But they had only taken the top half of the plant.
And I would say, Okay, girls, you can get back
in there tomorrow and take the other half.
And I put them back in there.
We dropped a little bit of milk.
And they didn't take the other half.
They took half of the half.
And so that really made me start thinking of what in the world?
And so I let them into another pasture.
And by that time, by a short period of time, a few days,
I was up 500 pounds of milk, and they were going
through everything on this farm, eating the top half.
Then I ran some samples of the plants.
I took the whole plant, and the top half and the bottom half.
I remember the top half was 22% protein,
and the bottom half was, like, six or eight.
So then I wanted to know what's the difference here?
And I found out that this was ligtin [sic] fiber -- wood --
and this is cellulose fiber.
And cows don't make milk off of wood.
At the time of April is
when a plant comes freshly out of the ground.
No matter what month, if it's just planted and it comes
out of the ground, at that time it is the most nutritional
of the time, because it's cellulose fiber.
And as it grows, it turns into ligtin fiber,
but it also has a seed head, of corn
or millet or whatever you got.
But then it becomes an energy source.
But the protein is gone to nothing.
[Farm sounds]
Well, I knew if I could come with 12 Aprils,
these cows would perform in so much better way.
But even to my most imagination, did I ever dreamed it would be
as good as it really has come for me.
[Background nature sounds] The 12-April system is a system
different than conventional, and different than grazing.
It is a totally different system that you can develop.
And you can't do it overnight,
but you can develop it piece at a time.
We have a hundred acres here on the farm, and we have 70 acres
in pasture, 20 acres in woods.
We have 83 cows right now, and we'll stay under 90 cows.
That's what fits the land.
But what the system is, is that we have 29 paddocks here,
29 paddocks, with two and a half,
three and a half acres per paddock.
And with that, we have something growing in every one
of those paddocks that's different.
And we have dividers, that we can divide this in,
to where the cows will graze one of these paddocks each day.
And it'll look like it's been moved with a lawnmower.
But the think of it is, it can be designed any way you want it.
You just gotta have crops that you grow
that the cows can get to.
[Background farm machine sounds] What we'll do with an old crop,
we'll come in here and mow it four inches
above the ground, with the Bush Hog.
Leave this stuff alone.
Then at five days, we'll come back
and Bush Hog it to the ground.
And what's happened, I'll tell you the story.
I was -- I had to go to town for my Farm Service --
fill out my Farm Service Agency books --
papers, you know, and I had to go.
And Doug was here, and I said, Doug,
go Bush Hog field Number 4.
Uh, Tom -- Doug, just go, do it.
I need 4 done.
And I took off.
I come back, and we planted that field.
And the next -- when that crop came up,
plant 4 came up beautiful.
Plant crop 3, which was planted the next day,
wasn't near what the crop was, and it was all spindly and such.
And I said, God, what'd we do to 4?
He said, That's the one I Bush Hog'd twice.
I said, What do you mean?
He said, I'd already Bush Hog'd it, when you told me to do it.
So I said, How many days was that?
And we got back it was five days.
So we've been doing it ever since.
So what we find is happening --
here again, this is how Farmer Tom at University
of Farmer Tom -- we Bush Hog it and cut it down
and plant our no-till crop in there, and it has to struggle
to come with this four-inch up bud.
But what happens when we Bush Hog it four inches
and then go back in and hit it to the ground, what I think
that plant says, That's it.
I called for all my resources, and now here I'm hit again.
I'm dormant.
And it actually goes dormant.
And that gives my new crop a time to get out of here,
before it covered by the other crop,
and where it won't get the sun.
And that spindly crop wasn't getting the sun.
But then after it got out of the crop --
out of the old crop, it done fine.
But we lost a bit of nutrients now, by not doing
that five-day, double Bush Hog.
[Background farm machine sound] We only use it
when we've planted, when we've mowed or plowed or grazed.
We only use manure in a field that needs it.
We have a record of every field we put it in, and how much.
We manage the manure.
And now it's saving me thousands and thousands of dollars.
I haven't bought chemicals or chemical fertilizers now
in over 21 years -- on this entire farm.
This field was planted three days ago,
with a no-till planter, Bush Hog'd two times,
to be able to make sure that it would come up.
She'll probably be up tomorrow, maybe after that rain.
But you can see the no-till marks with the no-till planter,
all out through there.
[Background insect sounds] There you can see,
just coming out of the ground.
So this field will look like that field,
in about 20 more -- 20, 25 days.
[Background machinery sounds] Every day they went
out this one road, one line.
And by the time there were mudholes that deep,
and they were like this, the cows will step here.
Here's your mudholes.
Every day after day.
And in the area where they came in was so muddy,
it was up to the hocks.
And we had a cow jumping out of that,
up on the cement ramp, and broke her leg.
So I quit.
That's it for 12 Aprils.
I'm not doing that again.
That is not going to work.
We dumped truckloads of crusher on in,
and it just, like, sucked it up.
So we were really in trouble with that.
Well, then SARE, I asked for a farmer's grant
to research what type of things that would work on roads.
And so we tried four or five different things.
And then all of a sudden we heard
about this geotextile cloth.
We took a road dragger and made a ditch, like that.
And then the cloth comes over there, tucks in here.
Then we put four to six inches crusher right on top of that.
So this keeps crusher on from traveling,
and holds the carpeting from gutting up.
So now you got this nice road, and you just take the tractor --
a dump truck -- and put crusher on, gravel, four to six inches
on top of it, pack it, and it's done.
Here's some of the geotextile cloth that the crusher
on it is drained off of.
But you can see, still, it does the job it has to.
It was -- it had about three quarters of an inch
of rain last night, and no effect.
As far as the cows go, there'll be no effect to them at all.
There's no mud to walk in.
[Background grassy sounds] I think the variety
that we have here, I truly feel the cows really do
appreciate it.
Because they'll come into a field,
and when it's a new field,
it's like they broke their neck [chomping sound],
they start grazing.
And that's what I always say.
Those cows -- you see those cows here?
They're down there making money.
Rotational grazing is they'll -- this grass here,
those cows will eat that, but the protein level is low,
and the nutritional value is low.
So they won't have maybe six or eight
or 10,000-pound herd average.
But they've cut their input costs.
So they've done that.
But I didn't cut my production.
I'm 22,000-pound herd.
But I plant -- I graze a crop, not grass.
I graze a crop.
I don't graze Fescue.
I don't graze Bermuda.
I don't graze any grass.
Now, I do plant ryegrass with my crop.
But I plant a crop.
I plant it four, five times in the year, a different crop.
And so my cows are grazing tremendous amount of forage,
and the nutritional value is out the roof.
[Background bird calls] For the fall and winter, I planted rye,
ryegrass, and Yuchi clover, and, wow!
It was unbelievable, and so -- as it would grow up knee-high,
and I would -- I would -- testing it, like, 22% protein
or 18 or 23 or whatever.
And so we have a period of time that that would work.
Then I knew there -- I found out there were other ryes.
There was Florida Black,
and there was Rand's [spelled phonetically] Abruzzi,
and Athens.
And you could find out that some
of those have quicker periods of time.
They'll come up quicker or last longer or take more cold.
And so those are the things that you find out, and I don't know,
in South Carolina, I can tell you for sure,
but in other states throughout the country,
you need to know what performs better.
And a lot of times the questions we ask are --
the answer is not what we were looking for.
I used to ask, as a farmer -- conventional farmer --
what ryegrass is the best to grow here,
and it was Rand's Abruzzi.
But yet Florida Black would be two, three weeks prior
to Rand's Abruzzi of being able to plant it,
to where I would have two or three earlier grazing,
than the Rand's Abruzzi, and then the Athens.
So I started working with all these and -- out.
And in the winter there's no doubt, rye, ryegrass
and clover is the key.
Then when my April comes, I may plant sorghums or sudans
or whatever, and they are my early spring.
But in the summer, seven months
of the summer can be alfalfa, grazing alfalfa.
And they say it doesn't work, and you have
to have the chemicals.
I haven't used any chemicals in 21 years on this farm.
But when the weevils come for the alfalfa,
all I do is put 1400-pound hose things on, and they're gone.
And the protein -- the cows' protein level was increased a
little by the weevils, maybe.
I went to the millets, because we have a lot
of dry weather here.
And I went with some -- at beginning I went some --
just some common millet.
But then I found out that teff leafs free, that it would --
a fine stem, a beautiful leaf and high in protein.
And it would even wait for rain.
So my July April -- July April and all, is millet.
So I have 12 Aprils.
I have something on this chart that will grow all year long.
Something will grow any time of the year.
But if you only have two Aprils, you got one better than you did.
So from two Aprils on to 12 is a success.
And as time goes by, you'll find there's many more things
to plant than you'd ever dreamed of.
[Background sound] By the way,
all of my seeding is higher rates than recommended.
Now I would probably go no less than 10% more
than commonly is recommended for your grazing,
because with this grazing,
you need very good forage seed population.
And the cows, I want 'em to eat plenty, every step they take.
So you don't do it scanty, by any means.
What I learned is to follow, instead of lead.
I had to follow my cows out to
that pasture, when they broke out.
I had to follow them to see that they'd ate only the top half.
I had to not say, Here's a hay.
I mowed this field to the ground,
and you're going to eat it.
And that -- and I'm going to put this stuff
in it to make you eat it.
So I found out is what the cows really love and happy and come
to me and do everything like that, is when they got
that top half of that plant.
Farmer Tom, this is fantastic.
You're welcome.
[ Quiet nature sounds, squawk ]
>> Narrator: This video has been made possible with funding
from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education -- SARE.