BLACKSTOCK — For their environmental improvement and exceptional pasture management, Denise and Jeff Byers of MurrayHill Farm received the 2021 Mapleseed Pasture Award earlier this year — and they again demonstrated that skill through the ensuing dry summer.
Denise counts as a successful innovation the resizing of what were 15 paddocks down to 32 one-acre sections of pasture to graze their beef animals. The cattle — 30 cow-calf pairs and 20 yearlings — move to a new paddock each day with the help of a four-wheeler and a dog.
“We did have periods of very dry weather, and that’s where our change in the pasture system really shone through,” she told Farmers Forum. “Each of the paddocks had 32 days to recover instead of 15.”
The shift to smaller grazing areas has also been more productive in terms of animals supported on the available land base. “It allows us to run more cattle on the same amount of area,” she explained. They’re approaching their goal of having one animal per acre on the farm without buying feed.
It takes 20 minutes daily to shift the cattle from one paddock to the next, she said. Portable reel-type electric fencing — but still connected to the grid — is quickly moved and staked in place to complete the transition into the next paddock.
Their 50 acres of hay also did “super well” this year, Denise reported.
Sponsored by the Beef Farmers of Ontario, Mapleseed and the Ontario Forage Council, the Pasture Award winner gets $250 cash award plus a bag of forage seed.
Denise says the win felt like “an affirmation of our efforts” and allowed them to make contact with many more people about their successes in the field.
Organizers cited the Durham Region recipients for their paddock rotation system that is arranged around a central water line on 38 acres of rented land. The Byerses also graze another 14 acres of unimproved land, and plant hay on the balance of the land at MurrayHill Farm.
Their pastures consist of five-year-old alfalfa/grass hay land that is fertilized annually and is frost seeded in the spring. Newly developed hay ground is harvested for three to four years, then transitioned into pasture as part of a long-term rotation.
They sell their beef on-farm as cuts or in bulk, along with garden-picked vegetables and farm-fresh eggs.
“Jeff and Denise have built this enterprise from the ground up in a short time and have made tremendous inroads quickly,” says Scott Fisher, Mapleseed Sales Manager for Western Ontario. “The Byers family is a worthy recipient of the 2021 Ontario Mapleseed Pasture Award,” says Ray Robertson, Manager of the Ontario Forage Council. “They operate a very productive farm and have joined a growing number of producers who have established a transparent and thriving roadside market.”
The application deadline for the 2022 Mapleseed Pasture Award is November 30.