Save the Bay Farm Field Day highlights conservation on diverse operations

Dan Hansen
Brothers Scott, left, and Todd Brandenburg describe the species used in the cocktail mix planted in the renovated pasture.

GREENLEAF – One of the strengths of Wisconsin agriculture is that farmers can be successful and practice conservation despite differences in farm size and management style.

The conservation practices of two very diverse Brown County farms were showcased during the annual Save the Bay Farm Field Day, Sept. 2, sponsored by 8th District Rep. Mike Gallagher.

The Save the Bay initiative is a Northeast Wisconsin collaborative effort in which agriculture, academia, industry, government and nonprofit leaders identify, share and promote conservation practices to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment flowing into the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

Farmers, agronomists and conservationists viewed some of the strategies and technologies used to improve soils and protect water quality on Kane Farms near Denmark and Brand Acres Beef, LLC near Greenleaf.

Kane Farms

Pat Kane and his two sisters represent the seventh generation to operate this family farm.

“My sisters manage our 800-cow dairy operation, and I manage the cropping operation and oversee equipment maintenance,” he said. “We crop about 2,700 acres consisting of corn, alfalfa, wheat, sorghum and grass that’s used for heifer feed, and we have about 40 different soil types.”

Prior to 2017, he chisel plowed in the fall and did secondary tillage in the spring, making two to three passes before planting.

He used several plows, two field cultivators, and a disc along with other tillage equipment. “That was a lot of equipment to maintain, and it was expensive. The cost of operating that equipment and labor was really adding up.” Kane acknowledged.

In 2017, he did a little bit of no-till planting, and started with cover crops the following year. Current cover crops include clover, cereal grains and radishes.

Brand Acres Beef, LLC

Scott Brandenburg grazes approximately 60 head of beef cattle on 80 acres east of Greenleaf, and has 40 heifers on a nearby farm. 

“We have a 100 percent certified grass-fed beef operation. We sell direct and we also have a retail license for the farm,” he said.

He’s been farming since graduating high school, and has been grazing since 2015. 

“That year grain prices were really low, and cash cropping just wasn’t working for me,” he explained. “NRCS contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in grazing, and I decided to give it a shot. We put up fencing that year, and I’ve been grazing ever since.”

The grazing herd includes Angus/Hereford crosses and full-blooded Pinzgauer cattle, a beef breed that originated in Austria.

Brandenburg’s current herd comprises Angus/Hereford crosses and full-blooded Pinzgauer cattle, a breed that originated in Austria. 

His goal is to move to all Pinzgauer cattle, which have qualities well suited to grazing. “They’re medium to large animals that have been bred for meat,” he said. “They have sturdy hooves, the ability to travel over long distances, a russet coat that protects them from UV radiation, and they’re really laid back.”

Pasture management

Brandenburg has divided his 80 acres into seven pastures. 

“I have a primary lane, and then set up temporary fencing to move the cows between pastures, and I move all the animals every day,” he explained. “I let them graze the grass down to a certain length and then let the pasture rest for 30 to 45 days.”

This year he renovated one of the pastures where some problems had developed. 

“Over the last three years the field had become muddy from all the rain, and the cows had left some deep hoof prints,” he said. “So we worked up the ground a bit and seeded a cocktail mix of sorghum, sudangrass, hairy vetch, red clover, crimson clover and ryegrass. Next spring I’ll plant my pasture mix.” 

While Brandenburg will graze the third crop of the cocktail mix from his renovated pasture, the first two crops have been harvested for baleage by his brother, Todd, utilizing a custom Krone Baler and McHale bale wrapper to supply winter feed for the animals.

“Now that we’ve switched from dry hay to silage bales, the animals grow better because we’re putting up better quality feed,” said Todd. “You don’t need a special baler, but with the knives this baler has, we get a denser bale, and that improves fermentation.”

The bale wrapper is very efficient, taking only a minute to wrap each bale. “We use the skid steer to grab and stack the bales three high,” Todd added.

Improving the soil

During the five years he’s been grazing, Brandenburg has noticed a significant improvement in the soil. 

“The last two years I’ve been getting dung beetles back,” he said. “Leopard frogs are coming back because I use an organic insecticide and am not spraying a lot of chemicals. I have more birds, too, and my underground workers (earthworms and bacteria) are helping to rejuvenate the soil.”

He has above-ground water lines running out to the pastures. “I’m hoping next year to start burying some of the lines, which should help keep the water cooler in summer,” Brandenburg said. 

He has heated water in the barnyard for the animals to drink during winter, but will continue to feed the animals in the field as long as snowdrifts don’t prevent them from coming in to drink.

Brandenburg’s pastures also do a great job of preventing water runoff and reducing soil erosion, which is important because his farm is about five miles from the Fox River and nearly adjacent to the Branch River which flows into Lake Michigan.

“Right now my pastures can handle over an inch of rain per hour with no runoff,” he said.