A weekly blog for all things conservation
By: Brian Zeidner, Guest Columnist and Bradford County Beef Producer
I have a confession. I dislike numbers. But I do like information and have found that if I want to know how well my small beef farm is running, I need to measure my progress and track the results.
Tracking the grain inputs of steers when finishing and checking the grade of the beef after butchering lets me know and measure the quality of my product. Calculating manure application on the hay fields builds my soils and ensures I do not contribute to water quality issues with nutrient run-off.
Taking soil samples and having them tested allows me to target my actions and my limited funds, making soil improvements with the application of lime and fertilizer, or conducting other activities like aerating fields or rotational grazing.
My favorite activity by far is making quality hay. I have found if I can make top-quality hay, my animals hold great body condition all year long with no supplemental feed, leaving more resources to reinvest in the farm.
Making quality hay takes good soils, lucky weather, a concentrated effort when it is time to mow and bale, and active management of the crop. And sometimes it also takes a consult from a professional.
The Bradford County Conservation District has professionals who are willing to help, and I have found their services quite valuable. Considering all my active crop management activities, the most impactful has been the application of nitrogen fertilizer, as recommended by the agriculture team at the district.
I usually buy nitrogen in April and watch for the perfect weather window to apply it with a spinner spreader. It needs to be applied when the hay starts greening up, when the soil temperatures are warm enough and just before a soaking rain. Rain is needed to incorporate the nitrogen into the soil within a few days, otherwise the product dissipates and is largely ineffective. If I get it wrong, I waste my money.
However, if I get it right, wow, how the hay grows. It is lush and dark green, chokes out the weeds and undesirable plants, greatly increases my yield and provides me with great quality feed. I have learned all this from Kevin Brown, an Agriculture Resource Specialist at the conservation district.
Back to the measurement. I often have forage tests done on baleage and dry hay to see how well I did. It is exciting to open the reports and look at the numbers, specifically the protein and energy analysis. I have made first cutting grass baleage that has tested at 18% protein, making it worth all the effort, and the measurement encourages me to continuously improve my forages.
Managing a small acreage farm requires efficiency with crops so I do not have to travel to make lesser quality, low yield hay, which necessitates additional maintenance and wastes time, fuel, and effort. The resources at the Bradford County Conservation District are outstanding and are available to you as well. If you want to improve your operation, give them a call.
Brian Zeidner and his wife Pat own and operate a 42-acre beef farm in Bradford County. Brian also works as the Member Service Director for Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative, serves as the Chairman of the Bradford County Farmland Preservation board, is the Co-chair of the Northern Tier Industry and Education Consortium and is a United States Air Force veteran.
Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District