By Kim Burns, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets
“I’m interested in innovative ways to feed animals” said Caleb Smith of Dorset Peak Jerseys in Danby, Vermont. Smith runs the 350-acre dairy farm managing 60 milking cows while also raising beef cattle and sheep. In 2020, he joined the Dairy Farm Transition to Grazing cohort, led by UVM grazing specialist Cheryl Cesario. The technical assistance, funded through the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC), helps farmers build their grazing knowledge and skills through a combination of direct one-on-one support and peer networking.
Dorset Peak Jerseys was one of dozens of Northeast regional dairy farms that received support in developing grazing management systems from the cohort-based technical assistance model. “It’s easy to put your head down and do the work but the opportunities to see how other people solve problems is pretty profound,” Smith said, noting the benefit of learning from other members of the cohort. The supportive nature of the group created the perfect breeding ground to offer solutions to head-scratching situations.
As a participant in the Dairy Farm Transition to Grazing cohort, Smith received funds through the contract to attend the Ranching for Profit program in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from April 24th – May 1st, 2022. There, he gained expertise in grazing principles and business strategies, learned about the true cost of storing feed vs. the low overhead and high returns of grazing, and reevaluated his equipment to sell what no longer serves his operation.
Since Cesario’s pilot program in 2020, the Dairy Farm Cohort Technical Assistance Contract has expanded to include forage and non-traditional management styles. To date, the program has funded seven additional cohorts across the Northeast through Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROP), Conservation Performance LLC, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and University of Vermont Extension.
The fifth round of cohort-based technical assistance contracts are currently underway. Learn more about the program at https://agriculture.vermont.gov/dbic/grants/cohort-dairy-technical-assistance-contract.
Caption: Dorset Peak Jerseys enjoying their summer feed.