Milk, meat and mow (with buffalo) is the goal of this innovative Nebraska ranch
by Allan Nation
ATKINSON, Nebraska: Jerry and Kathleen Gotskhall have looked at dairying from both sides now.
In 1995, they had the highest producing Jersey herd in the state and milked three times a day in confinement.
Today, they milk only once a day, pasture their cows with no grain, are seasonal and Certified Organic.
“I’d quit dairying before I would go back (to confinement dairying),” Jerry said.
“I’ve seen the other side now and it is right. Everything is healthy. There is no cancer, footrot, milk fever or flies.
“Confinement dairying is a lifetime sentence of hauling feed and manure.”
Kathleen Gotskhall agreed and said, “A high milk production dairy is like getting in front of a freight train and trying to outrun it. We decided to just get off the track.”
Jerry said when he turned 50 he switched to once-a-day milking.
“Our whole emphasis has been on taking the labor needs out of our dairy.”
He said the secret to going to once-a-day milking with Jerseys is to stop feeding grain and never milk them twice a day again.
“Once they know you aren’t going to milk them, they shift from making milk to putting fat on their back.”
He said his cows average 30 to 50 pounds of milk per day.
The Gotskhall’s currently have 180 dairy animals in total. Their breeding is Jersey/Shorthorn and Jersey/Tarentaise.
In addition to milking, they sell dairy replacements to home milkers and other all-grass dairies.
“All of our replacements are Certified Organic so we are always looking for organic graziers needing replacements.”
Jerry said they have found the grassfed meat from the males of these dairy crosses to be exceptional and these Certified organic steer calves are also available.
MILK, MEAT AND MOW
The Gotskhalls’ use contract grazing to better utilize their 1300 acres of mostly sub-irrigated meadow.
In a typical year they will graze 800 to 900 yearling beeves and 400 head of buffalo cows for the green season.
The dairy cows, beeves and buffalo are managed in a leader-follower, rotational grazing program.
“We call it our milk, meat and mow program with the Buffalo cows being our mowing machine to maintain our pasture quality,” Jerry said.
The buffalo are grazed in partnership with a neighboring ranch. The Gotskhalls graze them during the green season and the neighbor grazes them in the winter on stockpiled warm-season native grasses.
He said the primary difference between grazing domesticated cattle and buffalo is that the buffalo do not like to be grazed at high stock densities.
“We typically use a stock density of 70 beeves per acre but have found the buffalo get really uncomfortable when crowded to over 20 cows per acre.”
(Stock density is the stocking rate per unit of land for a specific time period such as a day and not the overall stocking rate.)
As long as they are not crowded, Jerry said buffalo are easy to control graze with minimal electric fencing.
© by The Stockman Grass Farmer
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