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Pasture walks help dairy producers learn

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

WAUKON, Iowa -- Jeremy Peake has attended quite a few pasture walks in the past few years.

Last week, Peake, 22, took his turn as host showing how the dairy operation he started just over a year ago is progressing.

The pasture walk was attended by dairy science students from Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar. Some are starting their own herds, and others hope to eventually milk cows. They had lots of questions for Peake and the other dairy producers.

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"The students seemed very interested in what I was doing,'' Peake said.

The pasture walks sponsored each year by the Northeast Iowa Graziers helped Peake learn a lot about rotational grazing. Experienced graziers offer advice, and since every operation is different, there's always something new to learn.

"What we like to see at pasture walks is an exchange of ideas,'' said Jim Ranum, grassland specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "The NICC students got to see first-hand how a grass-based system provides an opportunity for entry into the dairy industry without a lot of capital investment.''

Starting early

Peake told visitors that he tries to get his cows on pasture as soon as he can in the spring and leaves them on pasture as long as possible in the fall. During the summer in addition to pasture, the Jerseys get eight pounds of grain and a cake of hay at each milking. The Holsteins get 12 pounds of grain and a cake of hay. Peake quit feeding silage June 1 and started again Oct. 1. He'll keep the cows on pasture until it snows.

During the grazing season, Peake and his herd dog, Arnold, move the cows to new pasture every 12 hours. He uses break wires to split paddocks. Perimeter fence is built with high tensile wire.

Peake encourages other young people to start farming.

"I'm lucky because grandpa and grandma had the farmland and facilities that I can rent, and they're selling me the machinery,'' Peake said. "Without that, I wouldn't be able to do this.''

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Peake didn't have to assume any debt when he started milking. He saved up a lot of money in advance.

"You need to have some money saved,'' he said. "If I had to be making loan payments I know I wouldn't make it.''

Starting the way he did meant doing without some things, buying used equipment and working hard.

"Try to get hooked up with someone who is retiring who will be willing to help you with land and facilities to rent,'' Peake said. "There are a lot of good facilities standing empty right now around here.''

When Peake started his grandfather, Kenneth Peake, wasn't convinced that rotational grazing would work.

"But I think I'm showing him,'' Peake said.

"My father always said the easiest money he ever made was when the cows walked to the pasture, fed themselves, spread their own manure and then brought their milk back to the barn, and that's what Jeremy's doing,'' said Kenneth Peake.

If he didn't have a grass-based operation, Peake explained, getting started would have been a lot more difficult because of the expense and labor required to start a drylot feeding operation.

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