By Tom Collins
ST. GEORGE — The winner of one of Beef Farmers of Ontario’s most highly-respected awards says not enough beef farmers use rotational grazing despite its benefits.
Steve Sickle, of Sickle Farms at St. George in Brant County, made the switch to rotational grazing about 12 years ago. Before that, the cows were allowed to feed on the 26 acres wherever they wanted. However, the field didn’t produce as much feed as needed, as the land became overgrazed and full of weeds. Sickle would bring in extra hay to feed the cows. Another problem was the cattle would walk back to the barn for water, which formed gullies in the field and meant less time spent feeding.
To switch to rotational grazing, Sickle, 47, installed a 30-paddock system. Each day, he or his daughter lays out the electric fence over one acre. The 25 cow-calf pairs graze in the paddock before moving to another paddock the next day. It takes about 10 minutes to dismantle and install the fence using a four-wheeler. A water line was installed up the middle of the field so the cows would have a constant source of water.
“Rotational grazing was a step forward in the right direction,” said Sickle, adding that the cows now put on more weight at a quicker pace than with the old system. “I figure we get 50 per cent more out of our pasture by rotational grazing. The pasture is growing more and it’s all productive because the cows aren’t walking back and forth to the barn to get water.”
Sickle, who was presented the Beef Farmers of Ontario’s Environmental Stewardship Award at the BFO’s annual general meeting in February, said many farmers won’t switch to rotational grazing despite its benefits because of the “way-I’ve-always-done-it mentality.” His father Bill was a naysayer, but Sickle finally convinced him. It only took about a month or two before they started noticing a difference in the growth of pasture.
The paddock system was also a big bonus during last summer’s drought. At one point, it didn’t rain on the farm for 28 days. During that time, the cows stayed in one paddock and feed was brought in to give the rest of the acreage a chance to rejuvenate.