From the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Assoc.
By Lilian Schaer
A new stationary watering system is helping a northern Ontario beef farm improve its pasture management. At the same time, it’s protecting habitat for species at risk by keeping cattle out of the water courses on the farm, and delaying harvesting of forages.
Brad Noyes, who farms near Belle Vallee in Temiskaming District with his wife and parents, knew he wanted to install a reliable, year-round watering system for their beef herd.
The Noyes graze about 200 cow calf pairs and approximately 150 yearling steers and heifers; hay fields are harvested and the regrowth is often grazed later in the season.
Their farm, which grows mainly perennial grasses like timothy and tall fescue and legumes such as bird’s foot trefoil, alsike clover, and red clover, attracts grassland birds like Bobolink, and its ditches and streams, where the cattle have traditionally accessed water, are home to many wildlife species.
This meant Noyes was able to receive cost-share funding through the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) to help bring his watering system plan to fruition.
“To keep the cattle from drinking from ditches and creeks that run through the farm, I needed a reliable water source that can be used year-round,” he explains. “We feed hay in and wintergraze standing corn, so we established the water source near that winter feeding site, allowing us to provide clean water to the cattle at all times and keep the manure in the fields to benefit our annual forages.”
Last fall, Noyes installed a heated water bowl with enough capacity for 200 animals on a concrete base and with water and hydro lines running to it eight feet below ground. According to Noyes, the system came through its first winter without freezing, despite the extraordinarily cold temperatures in the region.
“Having that year-round, unfrozen access to water in the feeding area kept the cattle’s body condition better over the winter, and they weren’t walking long distances to get to water,”
observes Noyes, adding that he expects to see benefit in his pastures as well.
“The manure is more evenly distributed throughout the grazing and feeding paddocks, so the forages grown the following years can utilize those nutrients across the whole field. This will allow me to gain more grazing days per acre and give me the option to stockpile forage for summer haying and subsequent fall grazing,” he says.
And keeping fields with grasses and legumes growing into July will ensure that grassland birds,like the Bobolinks that make Noyes’ farm their home, will have completed their nesting cycles before the fields are grazed or harvested.
“SARFIP allowed me to install a good quality watering system that is able to service our herd properly,” he says. “As well, we were able to build a solid base pad around the waterer to ensure good footing for the cattle through the wet periods in the spring and fall.”
SARFIP is available for the 2015 season (April 1, 2015 – December 15, 2015) to farmers wishing to implement best management practices that help protect essential habitats of species at risk located on-farm. The range of possible activities under the program applies to croplands, grasslands, stream banks, shorelines, wetlands, and woodlands.
In order to qualify for cost-share funding, eligible Ontario farm businesses have to have completed a third or fourth edition Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) workshop and an Action Plan verified by OSCIA. They must also have a plan to implement at least one of the eligible best management practices from the SARFIP 2015 Brochure that relates directly to an action identified in their EFP action plan. The SARFIP 2015 Brochure and forms are available on the SARFIP page of the OSCIA website, alongside resources to help farmers and agricultural landowners apply for funding.
More information about SARFIP is available at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.