With over 3 million idle acres in NY , maybe there’s some out there for you.
by Nancy Glazier
Undeveloped rural land in New York is generally classified into three categories: active agricultural, forest, or idle. Over 3 million acres of vacant land lay idle, waiting for an opportunity. Not all of this land should grow corn! Maybe leasing it for livestock grazing is the better fit. Here are some considerations:
Access: Whose is it? The first step is to find out who owns the land. Start with asking neighbors. Explain what you would like to do: graze livestock, not build a house. If that leads to a dead end, check the tax maps with the local town clerk. Many counties have the tax maps online through the county’s Real Property website. Google Earth Pro can be downloaded for free and has tax parcel data for may rural locations. Once you find out who the property owner is, take them a pound of your ground beef or a dozen eggs to break the ice. What may sweeten the deal is explaining the benefits of agricultural land assessment and what that would mean to their property taxes.
Get it all in writing. Time and effort is involved in setting up a grazing system. Make sure you spell out who installs the fence, where electricity comes from, and the water source, to name a few points. If you install items and the lease ends, make sure you identify who gets the hardware. Spell out what happens if the landowner dies during the duration of the lease. You probably want a lease for at least 3-5 years.
Fence. Fencing serves two purposes: to keep livestock in and keep predators out. This is no place to skimp since these animals are not in your backyard. You don’t want a call in the middle of the night that your livestock are out. The least expensive way is to have the landowner pay for installation. That way the fence stays where it is if the lease is terminated. Another option would be for the cost share for fencing. Make sure you plan where the power is coming from; from a meter on the pole or the landowner. Solar is an option, too. Another option is to install it yourself. Use good quality fence posts and pay particular attention when installing corners, ends and gates. If you don’t have the time or expertise, hire someone to do it. Portable electric fencing is an excellent option for shorter term leases, as the farmer can take it with them when they leave.
Forage quality. This may need some work. My first recommendation would be to test the soil, but it may be easier to take a sample after the pasture is bush hogged. Lime as needed, but don’t try to apply more than 2 tons/acre if you are not plowing it down. Remember the benefit of this whole system is to keep costs down. Give the pasture 2 or 3 years before you decide to renovate. If fertility is really low, you may need to fertilize at recommended rates.
Livestock are a great way to improve pastures as well. New, lush growth provides a salad bar. They will eat what they like and leave the rest. You may need to clip or mow pastures to eliminate some weeds, such as goldenrod. The best time to mow for weed control, specifically goldenrod, is full bloom. When weeds are controlled, sunlight will reach the ground and some of the grass seeds in the seed bank will germinate, if sufficient moisture is there. Tap into them and give them a chance before you decide to reseed. And remember, it may take a few years to reach your optimum carrying capacity.
Rotation is essential for pasture improvement. The shorter the residency period, the better for forage production. When livestock graze for more than a day, they will go back and graze the nice, soft regrowth. Ideally, cattle should be moved every 3 days, but that’s not always practical. Move them to a new paddock as often as possible, to fit your schedule.
Frostseeding or overseeding may need to be done to improve the pastures. The goal is to get good seed to soil contact. Frostseeding is best done around March when there is a freeze-thaw cycle. That works the seed down into the soil. Overseeding works if the seed reaches the soil and is somehow scratched in and sufficient moisture is present; better to attempt in spring or early fall.
Water. Water is the cheapest nutrient. Your animals will need a sufficient supply of clean water. Is there a pond or spring that could be developed? Livestock can drink from a pond or creek with limited access. Will the neighbors let you run a hose? Maybe a water wagon is the best option for the location. You may need a portable tub that moves with the livestock.
Livestock handling. You will eventually need to catch those critters after a time on pasture, whether it’s to move or sell the livestock or to treat a sick one. Cattle need to be adjusted and not frightened by it. One grazer brings his cattle through his corral every time he moves them. That may be more than necessary, but think about that. It could be a portable or temporary facility.
There are many graziers that have implemented this system. You may want to start small and learn from the experience!
Nancy Glazier is Small Farms Specialist for the NWNY Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team, Cornell Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at her office in Penn Yan at 315.536.5123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.