In this fascinating episode, we’re joined by Alan D. Henning, who shares his incredible journey from working on a dairy farm in Illinois to becoming a Fulbright scholar and dairy farmer in New Zealand. Listen in as Alan discusses how his passion for dairy farming led him to study at different universities, where he was exposed to various grazing management techniques that changed his life forever. His experiences in New Zealand and his passion for farming eventually brought him back to the United States, where he now works as a consultant to farmers, writes articles, and develops grass-based dairies.
- Grass to Milk: A New Zealand Philosophy by Campbell McMeekan
- Grass Productivity by Andre Voisin (Amazon) (Bookshop)
- Soil, Grass and Cancer by Andre Voisin
- Grasses and Grassland Farming by Hi Williamson Staten (Amazon)
- Growing pastures in the South by Joseph F. Combs (Amazon)
- The Power of Electric Fencing by Alan D. Henning & Gerardine A. Henning (Community)
Links from the Episode:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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0:00:00 – Cal Hardage
Welcome to the Grazing Grass podcast, episode 59.
0:00:05 – Alan D. Henning
Grazing is sitting down with weather. You playing a game of cards with weather. Okay, but weather always goes first. So weather throws down the card and weather says beat that. So today here is 85 and sunny and it’s dry. So what are you going to do today?
0:00:22 – Cal Hardage
And then replans on today’s show We have Alan Hennie. He’s a longtime grazer with tons of knowledge. He is currently a dairy grazing consultant out of Madison, wisconsin, and I think he’ll really enjoy it. For this week’s 10 seconds about my farm, we’re going to do something a little bit different. I really appreciate the reviews that our listeners have left on various platforms. Just the other day I was on the apples podcasting app And I don’t normally use it. I use a spotify for my podcast listening and I wanted to check on the grazing grass podcast. I pulled it up and the reviews. I want to thank you for your kind words and I want to read one today from drew be hyphen nemo.
I would highly recommend this podcast for anyone who is interested in managing their pasture Or looking to get into cattle or sheep. Grazing. Calda is a nice job of trying to get interviews from fellow grazers That are from all over the country and are diversified in their operations. Once you download it, you will definitely find some podcasts that will fit your niche in the grazing world. Thank you, drew. I appreciate it And if you haven’t left a review wherever you listen to us, please go there and leave us review. It helps us get the word out about the podcast and helps other people that’s looking for something to find. Hey, maybe I should listen to this. Thank you, drew, and Let’s talk to alan. Well, alan, we want to welcome you to the grazing grass podcast. We’re excited to have you on today.
0:02:00 – Alan D. Henning
I appreciate the opportunity very much Hell.
0:02:02 – Cal Hardage
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your operation?
0:02:06 – Alan D. Henning
I’m living in madison, wisconsin, right at the moment, but I’ve been here for quite a few years. But I grew up about 200 miles south of here, a little place called tonica, illinois. It’s north central old farm town about 700 people just south of interstate 80 on 51. There and when I was growing up, it’s all corn, soybeans and general livestock. My grandfather just retired and my dad was. He worked for catechloric credit company, one of the big factories. I was just not sure.
Young guy growing up the mowing lawns, shoveling snow, blivering newspapers, whatever. And one day of my best friend came over, said hey, how would you like to make some serious money on a dairy farm? That was about 10, 11 years old And so they need some help Bailing. Hey, i thought, oh, this should be a piece of cake, okay. So he said we need to ride our bikes out there. So the next day we went out to this farm about a mile away and The guy is kind of looking at his names art lund. He said what are you guys good for? He said get up in the haymow, got unload all this hay. And they were, you know, conventional bales. Well, we couldn’t even pick up one end of the bale. A little long, move it. Okay. So open the haymow, we’re sweating away, sweating away. Anyway, a few hours later the dinner bell goes, say everybody runs off. I said where’s it a fire? and raise laughing. Oh, it’s lunchtime, so we had going to have this big meal and everything and go everything. The afternoon we load up all I hate and everything again.
Anyway, i did this for a couple of summers and then one day they asked me would you like to milk some cows here? This might be making hay. So I got in there, milk in the cows with it, with his wife, and I loved it. So from then on, when I was about 13, i spent every moment out there I could. I did it all through high school and I was really interested and went to a junior college nearby for about a year.
But my best friend went down to a southern Illinois University down in Carbondale. He said hey, oh, and come on down here. They have a big open house for the dairy research farms. They need some help. So I went down there and looked around. They offered me a job. I said, well, look, i didn’t even rolled into school yet. Okay, so anyways, we’re quite impressive. So I applied and a few months later I got accepted to Southern Illinois University, carbondale. I said what? I need a place to live. And the manager said well, you can live in this barn right here. We’ll just remodel the barn, you can live in this barn. And I said well, how much you said for nothing. All you had to do is milk those cows and live in this barn and go to class. I did that for three years. I was on a national dairy judging team and I did their dairy science program, went to summer school And it was fabulous, unbelievable.
Anyway, when I graduated, believe or not, i got a Fulbright scholarship. I have no idea how I got it. Unbelievable. This is what changed my life and my wife We were just talking about today. 50 years ago to this day, i graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale And I was about to go on this Fulbright to New Zealand and this is what changed my life.
This is unbelievable. What happened to me next? So, anyway, when I got this Fulbright, got this piece of paper And my advisor said and you have all people, you got one for 18 months. I said well, how much is this going to cost? He’s laughing. He said it’s not going to cost you anything, it’s all paid for and you’re going to get a check every month, you lucky dog. So you’re supposed to go to New Zealand and go to school for a year And then for six months you can travel around the world, as long as you’re working on farms and looking at agriculture And it’s all taken care of. I said well, when they’re going to send it to itinerary He’s laughing. He said no, no, you have to make out the itinerary. I said what? so anyway, i enrolled at mass university at Palmerston North, new Zealand. It’s a top-ag school in the world. Anything to do with forages, grazing livestock. Kids from all over the world go there and they got big research farms on grazing. It’s fabulous.
So I went to school there for a year and I supposed to live in a dormitory and I thought no, this is going to be a bit boring. I’m going to try to find a farmer nearby that can live with a farm family And then go to school at the same time. So I checked with my advisor there in New Zealand and he said look, alan. He said I know you’re that kind. You can’t work for money. Okay, because you’re getting paid by the Fulbright people. And I thought no, but I can work for heifer calves right. So anyway, i found this farmer, john Hopkins, and I soon found out they were the top farmer in the area. Anyway, he hired me and I lived with her family and they had three hundred cows on grass. I milked the cows morning and night and went to school during the day And on the weekends and whatnot, but he gave me plenty to do. It was unbelievable, oh my gosh, i learned so much. So at the end of the year I graduated out of mass.
I took a what they call the dairy diploma, dairy and agriculture, or a diploma in agriculture. Dairy up you have dairy option, beef option, a horticulture, open sheep option. I took the dairy option and kids from Ireland, england and New Zealand are all there And we took management trips all around New Zealand, staying with farm families, dairy cooperatives, business, people. Was unbelievable, wow. And I learned so much about export, business and grazing and all that stuff. So anyway, at the end of the year I had to leave.
But anyway, hopkins, he guaranteed me if you want to come back and use me at that time, i will guarantee you a job. I said that sounds good. So anyway, they have a thing called share milk and it helps young people get into farming. I thought, man, i don’t know if I can get into share milk or not, so I said, well, i’ll give it a go.
So anyway, for the next six months I traveled around the world. I worked on farms through Australia, all through Southeast Asia and Japan. I went across Russia on a Trans-Abraian train in winter. Have you ever seen the movie Dr Chevago? It’s just like that Steam engines Oh my gosh snow. I lived it, went through a year for a few months, worked on our farms there and I got back to America.
Anyway, just before I left New Zealand I met my future wife. So anyway, she wrote a letter to the embassy saying I’m a very good student, very good citizen. They need people in New Zealand. And then Hopkins wrote a letter And then I got a visa And I got back to New Zealand And then I lived with the Hopkins family And then he made manager on his farm where he was share milking. So he was 50-50 share milking on a farm And he had six other farms with 50-50 share milkers on those. So there’s just tons to do all the time. And then he just bought another farm that grazed all the young stock And he put me in charge of developing that other farm. So he said you don’t have enough to do, you need to get down there and start developing that farm too, besides loving these other cows. I said, okay, great.
About halfway through that year we got married, my wife and I, in New Zealand. She’s from Wellington in New Zealand. She had never been a farm in her life And we finished managing that one farm. And then John said I want to help you get into farming And he said how much money you got in the bank? And I said well, i got $3,000 in the bank right now And he said fine, he said I got $3,000 too, and he said I bought a sheep and beef farm just down the road. He said I want to form a 50-50 partnership. You and your wife and we’re going, with $3,000 in each, we’re going to borrow to buy 200 and calf heifers from his farm company to put on this sheep and beef farm. We’re going to build a cow shed, put the fencing on it, water supply and you’re going to milk the cows. Okay, you’re going to be the managing partner. If you’ve got any problems, just give me a call. If not, don’t bug me. Okay, go do it.
So anyway, we moved down there a year later, managed this farm and discussion group And at the end of the year we’re topping our discussion of 15 farmers in our area. So I’m learning. So anyway, i said John, i said I want to actually want to go 50-50 share milking if I can. I said I don’t know if I got enough money or not. And I said I got a half share in those heifers and we got some money in the bank now. And he said, well, you don’t have an opening now. But he said I’ll give you two months to find somebody if you can go 50-50 share milking. So 50-50 share milking. This is how it operates. Sierra, we’re about ready to retire on your farm.
I come to you as a young couple and I buy your herd of cows on your farm And you provide a rent-free house on your farm. But I have to supply all the labor And that’s why, usually a married couple, they don’t hire anybody. Okay, they do all the work themselves. They make the money. So then when the milk chip comes every month, half goes in your account, half goes in my account. I own all the livestock on the farm And every month when we pay the bills. We have an agreement We sign, usually like a three-year contract, and every month we have an independent, you know arbitrary, like a dairy-bork-consoling officer. So I might say, oh, next year I want to milk 20 more cows, and the farmer says, oh, i don’t know, got enough feed. So then we talk about that.
Okay, so we start with 160 cows, we went to 180 and we went to 200. We milk those cows for three years with no labor. At the end of three years we had all those cows paid for. That was up in a white kettle Fabulous. We learned a lot. We actually started exporting heifers to Thailand. That was another deal. We don’t want to worry about that right at the moment.
Anyway, we had a choice to either go bigger sure milking or buy our first farm. We actually bought our first farm, 73 acres. It was an economic unit back in Manawatu. Our daughter, everything was happening. Then Our daughter was born on that day when we bought the farm. A year later we doubled the production of that farm. We did up the house, the cowshed drained, it fenced it, all us there. About three years later we sold that And we got into a 50-50 partnership. We bought a sheep and beef farm in a South Island, new Zealand, near Christchurch, in North Canterbury. At that time nobody was dairy farming in North Canterbury And we developed the first dairy farm in North Canterbury. That was in 1983. We set up a 50-50 partnership with some engineers that had a tax problem. I was the managing partner. We started with 200 heifers And at the end of three years we had 500 cows milking, a flood irrigation system, built a cowshed, a couple of houses, whatever.
I started consultancy business developing grass-based dairies in New Zealand and Australia. I started coming back to the States doing consulting work and fencing grass seed, water supply, dairy seam and whatever. And then one day my wife said let’s move to America. So anyway, she’d been here a couple of times for visits. She really liked it, so we sold everything. That was in 1988. So we came to America, travel around Greyhound Bus for about six weeks And she picked Madison, Wisconsin. So we came here, rent a house out in the country, milked a herd of cows for rent for the house. I started doing a lot of consulting work with the Amish and Mennonites. I started writing an article for their stock and grass farm with Allen Nation called Midwest Grazing.
For many years I started speaking at conferences, field days And after a few we were homeschooling our daughter learning about America. And then one day my wife said we’re never home, we need to buy some cows. So one day we’re down in Missouri, we bought her a cow. We rented a farm here near Madison, wisconsin. There was in the mid-90s And we started.
We set up a demonstration farm for rotational grazing. We used them for Midwest Biolikes started with his micronutrients and whatnot. So we started using some of his consultants and field day. And then one day my wife said we need to add some value to our milk, our Jersey Milk. We won some awards for our local cooperative for quality milk.
We started making some cheese. My cheese maker did. My wife said well, you need to get out into Chicago. Chicago’s about 100 miles away. So we started selling at the stores and farmers markets down there. We won some awards. We started into grazing chicken. We needed more rooms. We bought a farm and we started developing that. And for about 12 years we’re never home. We’re marketing all the time in Chicago. So then we said enough. So we actually sold everything. We just concentrate on developing farms in Canada, us and Mexico. We develop grass-based dairies and help manage those and work with people. That way I started a construction business. We trim out new homes, cabinets, staircases, mantels, all that stuff Sort of into construction. We’re building cowshits, so we can build houses too, so why not? So anyway, that’s what we did. So right at the moment I still do a bit of construction work. I do a consulting. I don’t travel nearly as much, but I work with some projects here and there. So anyway, that’s my background.
0:13:38 – Cal Hardage
Which is an amazing background. I mean just by the age of 20, you’d already been in New Zealand and all over the world seeing dairying. I grew up on a dairy. I read the Stockman Grass Farmer for years. We started rotational grazing but didn’t really. You know. We dipped our toes into it but didn’t get into it as deep as we needed to to really go good with it. My dad and I had some different philosophies with that, so we ended up selling the dairy. But I still dream of milking cows. My wife says I’m crazy, i love dairying. At some point I think I may get a few because I’d like to try some cheese making. But off that topic, do you still have the demonstration farm going?
0:14:20 – Alan D. Henning
We gave up that lease And then the other farm. We developed it into a beautiful grazing property And then some people should call it. But one day saw me at a market and said we like to come to Wisconsin and start a grass-based dairy. I said here, and my wife’s standing there, she said, oh, we’ll sell you one, okay. So anyway, they came and they bought it from us. So we sold it to them And at that time we’d lease another property.
But there was just so much other stuff was going on. Actually, looking back on it, what I should have done is I should have hired somebody just to manage actually all farm, like Joe Salton. He has like subcontractors take his produce and he stays on the farm. That’s what we should have done But we didn’t. But our goal was to learn about the marketing and just about selling produce And we learned so much. It was unbelievable And I helped other people. So that was more than that. But over the years it was interesting back in 0809. It’s interesting how your old backgrounds come to help you out.
I couldn’t find any construction work. I couldn’t even trim out a dog house. I couldn’t find any consulting work. Anyway, i called up this guy that does head hunting and agriculture here in Madison. I said, okay, any jobs for a dairy manager? And he said, well, there’s actually an organic dairy farm just north of Madison. They’re looking for somebody to develop their grazing infrastructure because at that time organics you had to start doing more grazing. You just couldn’t put the cows out there. You had to get kind of serious about it. Okay, you have to make a commitment. Okay, so these people are interviewing people, so you have to go out there at night.
So I went out there for an interview and I thought this is not going very well. A few days later they called me back. Oh, you’re on the short list. Oh, how nice. Oh, we want you to develop this grazing infrastructure for us. Our general manager just retired. Would you like to be a general manager too? I said what does a general manager do? Well, he’s in charge of lots of cows and like a 400 cow dairy, 1600 acres over 10 miles. It was a big operation. So I said sounds interesting. I said I’m up for it. I said, if you pick me. I said I’m sure I can help you out. So anyway, they picked me and they gave me a two and a half year contract and I developed their whole infrastructure. We got into exporting butter to Japan where Japanese people come over And we actually a second year we got picked as far as the top dairy for organic valley.
Oh, yes, it was field day there. It was fantastic. Anyway, we learned a lot and helped a lot of people and it’s great.
0:16:40 – Cal Hardage
So are you doing grazing, consulting now? Yeah. So if someone were to call you and say, hey, i’ve been exposed to this and I don’t know what I’m doing, where do you even get started with that?
0:16:51 – Alan D. Henning
My wife and I back in 1995, we put together a little booklet called the power of electric fencing, a control grazing guide, just a pamphlet. We didn’t sell it and we just gave it away. We just printed it. Oh yeah, okay, but it was basic grazing management principles. It’s like a little Bible, okay, that just needs to carry around with you and you can say, okay, you’re interested in grazing, start control grazing management right now by opening the gate in your mind and then opening the gate for your livestock.
People invite me to their farms. They say, well, who should be there? I said anyone that’s involved in your farm. I said I don’t care what they’re thinking, i don’t care how they vote, i don’t care what their attitudes are, we’ll just sit down at the table and we’ll just go around and make some comments about whatever, whatever’s on your mind. And quite often they sat down and actually talked about the management of the business, oh yes. And quite often hours later we haven’t talked about grazing yet. Oh yeah, we’re talking about you. What you’ve been doing on the farm haven’t been doing on the farm. Or or you said you’re going to come back and look after these cows and you never hear whatever. The story is Okay.
But then we started talking about some serious stuff. I said if you really want to get into grazing management, just like me in New Zealand, i was asking Hopkins so many questions the second day I was there. It’s pouring down rain and I’m looking out the window and I thought this is a complete waste of time. There aren’t any buildings out here. There aren’t any, no machinery, no tractors and all I see is cows all over the place. All over the place, and it’s pouring down rain. They’re standing out there. If I said, john, aren’t you going to bring the cows into the barn? He’s looking at me. He said Fulbright scholar, how’d you ever get one of those? Did you leave your brains in a back in America? And he said we don’t have a barn, so we forget that job.
He said actually, we’re going outside to do a grass walk today. I said, oh, really. I said I’ll tell you what I said it’s pouring rain outside. He said, oh, doesn’t it rain in America? I said, yeah, it rains in America, but we go inside, we don’t go outside. He said but they don’t have raincoats in America. He said well, here’s a raincoat. Put the raincoat on. We’re going for a grass walk. I said yeah, but the grass it looks okay And his grain is growing, oh no, and he said I’m going to figure out. He said every 10 days we go for a grass walk around the whole farm.
I said what are we going to do? And he said if you can keep up, come on. If you can’t, i said I hired you because you can walk and talk at the same time, so let’s go. So we had a plastic map with a magic marker on it Oh yeah, of the whole farm, just like this. Okay, he had all the subdued 300 acres, roughly about 10 acre and about 30, 10 acre paddocks. So we’re starting to walk around the farm.
And he said how much grass? He said, hey, yank, hurry up, come on. How much grass in this paddock? And I saw there’s enough here. I thought if I answer smart, i won’t be right or wrong. Oh yeah, and he said no, no. He said how much? How much would you put the cow? Okay, smarty, would you put? and we keep swalking. He’s over there, he’s in the next paddock already, he’s yawning at me And the rain, and New Zealand, the rain doesn’t come and it comes at you. So I’m kind of leaning into it And he said how about this next paddock?
I am worried about that. I said, look. He said if you keep walking that way, we’ll never get around the farm. You got to keep going this other way. So I said what do you have to do? He said, well, can you count the 10? It’s a condition scoring, but you condition score the grass. So what you’re going to do is you’re going to assess the feed. So all you got to do don’t worry how much grass is there, just put a score on it from one to 10. Just get, just pick a number. I didn’t even realize. Oh, this is easy, i’ll put a five on it, oh, yeah. And he looked at me and he said oh, you are a politician, aren’t you? I said, yeah, five. So what are the next one? I thought, wow, there’s a bit more grass here. I said, okay, six. He said, oh, you’re getting the handle, let’s go. Let’s go.
The next one the cow. They just grazed The cows just grazed, there’s hardly anything. I said, gosh, there’s hardly anything. Two, but he said, oh. He said, well, how, those heifers? look. We walked right by and he said I didn’t even look at the heifers. He said you got anybody on heat. I don’t know, oh, anybody. How is the group doing?
0:20:50 – Cal Hardage
I don’t know, i don’t know.
0:20:51 – Alan D. Henning
So they have anything to drink? I don’t know. So I’m walking back. I find out. Come on, let’s go. Sorry, we keep walking.
So this pedicure is something about reseating it. Do you think I should reseat it? No, it looks okay to me, i don’t know. Every time they milk you go in here, the milk goes down. I don’t know what the story is. Anyway, go across you, look at this electric fencing. I don’t you say I can’t feel a shock.
You grabbing a whole the family going like this, you know whoa? So a couple hours later We have all this information. It’s written down. So we get in the house and we’re sitting down. He takes out his notebook from the years he’s been there and he said here it is. We’re putting them on the map.
Now We’re gonna write down how much fees actually on the farm. Who cares, you wonder? we’re interested in the total amount of feed in the different categories. So we’re gonna go to speed up or slow down the rotation as we’re moving that stock around like this. So that was my first introduction. The crazy. He said in 10 days time You’re gonna do the grass walk by yourself because I’m gonna be out of town for a few days. So you got to do it. So when I come home I want all that information right here. Got it. Besides doing all this other stuff I did have do it, no problem. So anyway, that was my first introduction.
So you asked me originally where do you start with just a little information like this write your questions down. I don’t even have to come to your farm, we just talk over the phone, we’re over the computer, just like we’re doing right now, and then I’ll know some people maybe in your area that you can go visit. Just go over there or go a few miles away, because back in the good old days There wasn’t anyone really around too much. Then you kind of get comfortable and getting some more questions kind of focused in it. Take your wife with your girlfriend or your mom and dad or whatever dear old dad you want to educate him a little bit, so take them and then you come back and then eventually I’ll come out to your farm for a day. I’ll send some information ahead of me.
Okay, just say, read this, ask some questions, whatever, and then we’ll go from there and you can tell me a little bit about your operation and then we’ll focus on them. Whatever, but what I try to do is I never tell people what to do. I just say here’s some information. You run with it, just like what Hopkins did with me. If you’re really interested, go do it. And then he said there’s a farm down the road, you’re in charge. Just go do something, okay, and whatever you’re gonna do down there, it’ll be a big improvement.
0:23:01 – Cal Hardage
So go to it. You know something that you said there that really jumped out at me before we, even before you even talked about the grass walk, which we’re gonna come back to in a little bit Was, you know, sit down talking? a lot of times you spent hours talking before you even got to the the grazing portion of it. They were just talking about farm management. Maybe those families didn’t sit down and do it and you know, wrenching for profit. They really talk about that time on the farm and time in the farm Dad and I derried for years and then sold out and just critiquing ourself.
That was a limitation We had. We did not do a good job of that. Now We run cattle and sheep together now and We have a lot more conversations about that. That was definitely a limitation for our dairy years ago and I really think one of Leading causes of us deciding to go ahead and sell it Because it wasn’t quite functioning to the level we needed to function as the same thing happened to me when I was in high school Back in Illinois.
0:24:07 – Alan D. Henning
I was working for that farm family art in Louise Lund. They had two grown sons and a daughter. They just hated dairy farming. But they were on other farms. They had five farms in the area that they were all leasing so they were kind of pulled into it just for physical work. Oh yes, they did. they want to be. And when I turned up say Allen, thank you, you’ll be a, you’ll milk for me for this weekend.
You just you, you’ll, you’ll do it. Okay, thank you very much. You move along, oh you. Oh, those beans over there, they need to be cultivated next week, which is just, please go cultivate those beans for us. Okay, just go do that.
So I was kind of a go-between like this. And then the end they actually wanted to sell the cows to me to continue. But I thought at that time I wanted to get out and I’d travel quite a bit with my family, my mom’s from Cardiff, wales, and Around the States too with her family, and I want to do a bit more trail And just wanted to see a bit more life, experience it. Oh, yes. And so I started turning back. So as soon as I said that, they sold the cows and they retired.
But art and Louise, when I got married in New Zealand, they had never been outside the United States They came over with my mom to our wedding and he worked for me. They stayed with us for two weeks. I said, art, i’m gonna be the slave driver now, just like you and you’re gonna. We’re making hay right now because it’s summertime, and you gotta get out there tomorrow and rake those Paddocks right over there. Oh, yeah. So the next day he was out raking and so I drove by and he’s out there sitting on the tractor. He’s not doing anything, just sitting looking around. So I thought, gosh, you know, i hope everything’s okay. So I walk over. I said, hey, art, everything. Oh yeah, he’s just looking around at the mountain. You should know a thing. He said I can’t believe. You said I’m in New Zealand making hay and the scenery is beautiful. I said look, art, forget that, do that on your own time. Yeah, you need to get the tail right now. Let’s get going. He’s laugh like crazy. Anyway, they came was unbelievable.
0:25:56 – Cal Hardage
My wife is from Hawaii. We met here in Oklahoma and she’d gone back to Hawaii to see her family and I was going over a couple weeks later. I said take some pictures for me. I grew up on a dairy. I didn’t travel very far. Sometimes we’d go to Kansas or Missouri or Arkansas, but we stayed in Oklahoma pretty close. I know what mountains look like. I’ve been to Colorado but I want to see it. And she’d tell me we talked every day on the phone. She’d be like we didn’t really go anywhere.
0:26:25 – Alan D. Henning
There wasn’t really any scenery to take a picture of, and I said okay.
0:26:30 – Cal Hardage
So I’d ask her next day Should you take some pictures, send me a pictures of what you’ve seen? We just went to the mall and then we came home. We really didn’t do anything.
Not really much to see, and this continued on for a couple weeks and then I flew over first time in Hawaii. Her dad picks me up at the airport and we drive to her parents house. Standing on the driveway of her parents house, if I look to the east, i saw the ocean. I looked to the west, i saw a mountain. If I looked across the street, there was a palm tree that doesn’t grow in Oklahoma. You could have took a picture of anything. It was amazing.
0:27:07 – Alan D. Henning
You know, take it for granted, it’s in. When you see, and I just I couldn’t get over the scene. When I stepped off that plane I saw all that grass Whoa, this is heaven on earth. And when I send photos to my folks the first time, my dad said it can’t be that grain, surely not. Oh, yes, so but they came over. Once we got married, we moved every few years because we’re sure, milk and leesin farms, developing farm what?
0:27:31 – Cal Hardage
but they came over a few years there’s a Dairy or two on YouTube from New Zealand that I watch because I’m just fascinated by it.
0:27:40 – Alan D. Henning
Andrew, once a day farmer his farmers not too far more where she moved. He should. He’s a Their farm, is at Cambridge and it’s like on the western side of white Keto. White Keto is the main dairy area in New Zealand. Oh, okay, it’s a center of North Island, but Cambridge is there and we sure muggle by near Matamata teapoy. It’s on the eastern side. That’s the same general area But we did, we were sure mother for three years, but the same type with the hedges. Oh, yeah.
0:28:05 – Cal Hardage
I ruined, grat that, the same thing that for three years Oh yes, i love seeing that in that dairy parlor with open dairy parlors, just yeah, swing over.
It’s just fascinating to me and which I find the the high line so interesting. My grandpa had a double four, herringbone, swing and high line and then you know, all the dairies put in, or it seemed like to me, low line. We put in our dairy double four, low line of course. Then we’ve got eight milkers versus the four, just more stuff. But then when we started hearing about New Zealand style, it’s all still a high line, swing or swinging. How are you getting the infrastructure set up and what kind of infrastructure do you recommend? because I know, i know, when I look at my neighbor’s farm and they’re grazing and When I think about this podcast, those are the perfect candidates to listen, to start thinking about those next steps.
0:29:01 – Alan D. Henning
Tell us a little bit more about that process when I was going to school there in New Zealand and Associating with the sheep and beef people, the biggest bang for the buck was grazing is dairy. Yes, i always say that my grandmother, she, can graze sheep and beef, but my grandmother shall have a tough time with dairy cows. Because if you don’t do it right, you’ll see what the reaction is with the old cow Because you’ve seen her twice a day at least, if not more. But also you see it in the milk. That real fast, how I attack it is. If I come up on a Typical dairy farmer in America, doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter how many cows is and whatever, and I meet with them and I said, okay, having asked me or even talked to me or even called me up, there must be something in the back of your mind. I’d say, oh, there could be a different way to do things. Oh, we read the Stockman grass farmer. Or I was in the barber shop and I saw this magazine grazing. Oh, and as in my, my forage class at SIU, when it came the grazing chapter, my, my professor said, oh, nobody does grazing. This is in 73. We’ll just skip that chapter. And two years later I’m grazing big time in New Zealand and I, whoa, we’re gonna skip all the other stuff about supplementary feeding and machinery and housing and all the other stuff. Okay, so anyway, say the conventional dairy farmer, he’s been thinking about stuff or whatever. Or maybe the Sun said, dad, i’ll come back to the farm, but we’ve got to change things, just like you were saying with your dad. Okay, you start thinking about it and say, well, there’s lots of different things you can think about with grazing. And I said first all I don’t recommend you do anything different.
When I was back in high school, sam, 16 years old, the people I’m working for their total confinement. But we leased two farms and the summertime one of my jobs was to go down these two farms to check the heifers. And guess what? the heifers were out grazing down with a creached. We couldn’t plant corn or soybeans there or make hay, but they saw they’re just weeds there. But we put the heifers in there, but we put feet out. They need so much feet. They’re out there grazing all the time.
Well, one thing I know, it’s about those heifers. When I’m 16 years old, i look at those heifers and then I look at somebody else’s heifers, like the neighbors, or go someplace else I go, wow, our heifers now is big, but they’re healthier. The calf is beautiful. So that stuck with me. So fast forward, about six or seven years later I’m looking at real, i’m thinking, wow, these cows now is big, but boy, they healthy.
What about those dry cows? Oh yeah. And then you say, oh yeah, the dairy for those bite on this. So I, it’s like fishing. You throw something out. You say, oh, i think I’m gonna get.
So I said what about those dry? Oh yeah, that’s our biggest cost. You know they don’t produce anything. Oh, we need them. But right now we got a feet of malls, expensive feet. It doesn’t matter what year it is, when it is, it’s always expensive feet.
So I said, well. I said the grazing cow I, she does that if you let her. You said, well, we got this paddock here. So when they’re sitting there they’re grazing, i will wham, wham, wham, wham. They’re grazing like crazy. And now they were having an argument and everybody’s like this and Like this and thinking, oh my gosh, they’re actually grazing anyway. Usually in the back of my truck or somebody have a portable little fence And I just kind of stick it around the thing on the what you know there’s done. It doesn’t have to be any power and everything, just stick it there, it’s done good enough for time being. And I said, another of my hot grazing tips in here is let your stock Learn at the same time you do, or at the same rate. If your stock learn ahead of you, you’re constantly catching up and you’ll never, you’ll never, be on the same page. And if you say, oh yeah, i’m gonna, I just been in this grazing conference, i’m gonna set this up and everything, but if you don’t train your livestock in a certain way, they’re not gonna cooperate. They’re gonna think I’m not gonna have any part of this. Okay, so you, they have to go hand in hand with this.
And that first time milk and all those cows in museum, those cows they just wanted to get in there and get through. I’m thinking what? these cows one in there. So I’m looking down the raceway. I’m thinking what? I’m where, these cows going. I was also worried about milk in the cows. So get up there. Look, they’re way down the right there into another pet. They’re grazing on all these other cows. They got the radar up. They don’t want to be here, they want to be down there. So there’s just filing it through. We don’t even have to use a back and get with. Other thing I know well I I thought I knew about stockmanship. I had no idea I won’t have a clue. I got nine, nine points, what I call grass goals.
Okay, just before you get, thinking about spending any money is just a thought process is Walk the grazing area every ten days through every paddock. It doesn’t cost anything. Practice in New Zealand dairy farmers have three types of cost no cost, the low cost and then some cost. But they have a very hard time of spending money. Observation always take time to communicate. When you said a little bit about that, you and your dad or family members. What if it’s so important?
the second thing after grass walk in New Zealand, what powers The New Zealand dairy industry is the discussion group. Every area has a dairy board considering officer one directly. You pay through your fees But they chair a discussion group. There’s like 10 or 15 farms in your area meet once a month. Say, tomorrow it’s gonna be on your farm, then next month It’s gonna be on my farm. We go to the discussion group. It’s powerful, you’ll learn something and next month It’s gonna be here and you’re gonna tell them what we’re doing here on the farm. You better start learning. Oh, my gosh, i better learn something.
The last thing is plan, plan and reply like okay, like today I say I’m meeting with you and your dad, we’re setting up a plan about the grazing, whatever it is. Then next week things change. But how can Jesus say, as we see it today, at the end of our grass walk and we go through the information, he said that’s it as we see it today. But you know, grazing is sitting down with weather. You’re playing a game of cards with weather. Okay, but weather always goes first. Okay, so weather throws down the card and where it says, beat that. So today here is 85 and sunny and it’s dry. So what are you gonna do today? and then replans. So those are my main grazing goals.
0:35:17 – Cal Hardage
They cost nothing when you’ve been working with these dairies and get them started. What are some challenges they face?
0:35:23 – Alan D. Henning
back in 09 when I got this job as a general manager on this organic dairy farm. But a few weeks before that, during one of my, i went for three interviews and And one night they said oh, alan, would you like, since you’re on the shortlist, would you like to come? and this is in February, it’s in the winter time. Would you like come out into the free stall barn and look at our cows? Sure, let’s go out there. Okay, we open up the door. The stench and it’s like ammonia and it’s like tears Just come down my eyes. Okay, yes, you can hardly breathe and you walk in and use. There’s hundreds and hundreds of cows in this free stall barn. I’m right too close to cow and put my hand on her and she’s cold. Never many cows are chewing her cut. There’s still loads of feed in the feed alley, yes, but very few cows are chewing her cut. There are a lot of cows and I have a hard time walking. They got feet problem. The manure is coming out like water pistol. The stench is unbelievable. Yeah, i’m looking to feed the fees cold. Anyway, a few weeks later I’m standing in the exact same spot and I’m in charge because I’m the general manager. Now I’ve been hired for two and a half years, so it’s still the same situation.
So anyway, i thought right on the first day I was there. The next day it’s about seven o’clock in the morning and people are just running around in tractors and whatnot. Sorry, what I’m looking for is some dry matter to get into those cows to slow everything down. He’s got these humongous big bales. I wow. So I cut one open a big field on a flopps down and it’s beautiful green grass. And I thought, wow, look these big, wide leaves. And it’s reed canary grass. This guy walks past me in the snow. You should all you looking for bedding. And I said, oh, you use this for bedding. And I’m thinking this is a perfect feed For those dairy cows. So I just carried one over and I went over and no one was around and the cows had just been fed their feet But very few are eating. So I just toss a bunch of that re canary grass. It’s like flies on manure in a summertime. Those cows just went over there and then inhale that re canary grass, boom With it with about two minutes is gone. They’re inhaling this.
Before I left that night make sure everybody went I load a big feed out wagon. I went in there and I fed both sides re canary grass. I just stacked that thing up high, big. Down either side those cows were just boom, boom, boom like this. So when I got home about I don’t nine or ten o’clock that night, my wife said have you been fired yet? I said not yet and she said what he been up to. I said why I’ve fed this re canary grass And I said I’m doing a research project and it said tomorrow morning at 3, 34 o’clock I’m gonna be up there anyway.
The next morning got there just before 4 o’clock I opened up the big overhead door. Go, boom, boom, boom. Like this is like foggy old England, it’s like a big fog. Those cows, the heat that was coming off those cows, the Connation you couldn’t even see the cows in there, the body They’re chewing the cow. All that re canary grass was gone.
Anyway, we’re in there and I’m having a discussion with some people and all of a sudden heard these screams. I said oh my gosh, you know, is there a fire? Did somebody get injured? so I come running out and I look at the big bulk tank. It’s like Niagara Falls. The milk is flowing over the side of the bulk tank. It’s going right over there and it’s going down the drain and all these people are screaming, yelling, they’re lots of when they’re pointing to the milk and I said, well, shouldn’t we call the tanker driver? I said I know he comes every other day, but shouldn’t he come now? They utilize the feed butter and we haven’t even started grazing yet after that bit that became part of a ration.
So I looked on animal health. As the secretary said, tomorrow Could you do a breakdown of all our costs on the farm? But we’ll start with animal health. She said we spend most of our money on hoof trimming. We spent over $300 a cow and I’m thinking to myself in New Zealand, if you spend over 10 or $15 per cow American dollars You need to find another line of work. These people are spending over hundreds of dollars.
So the hoof trimming came the next day and I said what are there some of the problems? Oh, the main problem is Harry wart. It’s stress on concrete. What happens is you watch a calf when it’s born How it walks. It walks out like a proud horse, boom, boom, like this. But after cows been on concrete even just a year, her legs start to go back and They get damaged. The feet right there get damaged and then infection starts in and Harry warps starts in.
We rounded up all our dry cows and heifers out of all the different facilities all over the place and I put them down to our area called Jerry’s Paradise. It’s a big forest area and everything. We put them out there after about a month and a half and then coming into spring We brought those stock up as they started calving and whatnot and the hoof trimmer came up and And the first time, the hoof trimmer, the first five over 15 or 20. I’m standing there and the guy said, oh, we got a problem. And I said, what problem is that? he said they don’t have any Harry wart, these, these heifers. I said, oh, is that a problem? He said yeah, it is a problem. He said I can’t do anything for him.
Within less than a year We chopped our animal health bill in half. We started grazing our calves in pens. My guy that the calf ring had a big building and we went over the first day in February. So we walked over and there’s a pile of dead calves Right there and you walk right past the dead calves. So we walked in and it’s stench and I said, oh. I said you know you got the scour. Oh yeah, i got scoured out of that and I said to you what I’ll bring you something tomorrow Call it kefir and over the next few days those calves you snap right out of it. I said we’re gonna start wearing the bull calves for the farm. I said ring the bulls in there on a Multi feeding buckets from New Zealand you can feed five or six or seven calves at a time. All that stuff, multi cafeteria style feeding, any of the next spring start coming.
I went next door on this property and as I call it, i named it Jerry’s Paradise is beautiful grass area protected by trees. I got your hog panels, metal hog panels. I got two or three, made a circle, i put the calves in there and moved them twice a day across grass and I put on the buckets on there and had water there and moving across After a few weeks. So that’s just the power grazing and introduction, the organics and whatever, and just you just do a different ways to introduce your system For animal health and whatnot. I just tell you one more powerful story about introduction.
I came here in. 88 is the year of the drought for the Midwest. You might remember it, july of 88, we sold everything in New Zealand, flying to America, and my wife decided that we’re gonna live here in Madison, wisconsin. So we’re out in the country as a drought, is hot, hundred degrees every day, no rain, everything’s brown. And she, oh dear, there’s a hey hotline up at the Capitol building here in Madison. Why don’t you go up and tell them that you were gonna help out with grazing? and I said, oh yeah. I said you know, my wife’s never wrong, right, i’ll go up and and Introduce myself Hey. So I go up there.
There’s a big, long line of farmers waiting for irrigated hay from Nebraska, all the Western states. They’re shipping in Irrigated hay big time. And the farmers are saying why is I’m standing in line? saying all this work, this irrigated hay, it’s really expensive. Well, boy, i need it to feed my cow. Okay, it was drying up everything. So after about a half hour is my turn and The person in charge says are you buying or selling? I said, actually I’m selling. Oh, how much hay or force you have to sell? I say, well, it’s thousands of acres. And so what do you have? I said, well, it’s actually reed canary grass and other swamp grasses. What is this? some kind of joke? I said no, and I said I’ve never seen so much green in all my life. But it’s on the other side of the fences, it’s reed canary.
And my first consoling job was down in northern Illinois and this beef farmer. He had hundreds of beef cattle and about half his farm was swamp grass and reed canary grass, but on his gravy area is all brown. He was feeding hay from Nebraska. So I went over and I said is this your farm too? He said oh yeah. I said watch this. Open the gate. Those that was beef cattle ran right in. They start grazing like crazy. He said oh my gosh. He said no, didn’t think they would eat that stuff. I said there you go. How much they’re gonna cost? Yeah, he said well, that takes too much time to do all that grazing, setting or like that.
So when I was there, i met this extension agent from Lafayette County in southwest Wisconsin, john Cockrell, and he said oh you grazing, you know anything about grazing. That’s not just a little bit. I just came to the country. He said well, there’s this tough headed German out in southwest Wisconsin. They started to graze and he said why don’t you go and see him? And he said I don’t think he’s doing much grazing now. But he said don’t you know there’s a drought on. I saw a. Go out and see him, yeah. I said well, how do I find him? He would just drive out there and after you drive off the main road, go across the hill and he, once you see all that, he said get the fences up, research all that land. Did you see out there? thousands, that’s all his sorry.
The next few days later, drive out there and, sure enough, look at it way in the distance, see these two guys walk across the paddock to get off closer. And all of a sudden, here this tough headed Farmer, the tough headed German guy, swearing at this young kid and this young kid’s trying to show him a tractor. And you said don’t you know there’s a drought on? get lost. Anyway, i follow him around anyways. All sudden he turns around to me, said what do you want? And I said oh, i just want to talk about grazing. He said well, don’t you know? there’s a drought on this pack. There We’re standing in, there’s grass like this, but it’s brown, but there’s a lot of leaf and there’s clover at the bottom like this, but as far as I can see there’s grass, but it’s brown. This is in July of 1988. This is the power of observation.
So I said to this tough headed German That’s what you trying to do. He said I’m trying to graze my cows, but there’s anything out here. And I said, well, i said just look over here. And they had these monoslopes with all our dried cows and heifers in and their phenomstylages over here. And I said, well, how about if we just bring some heifers out here into this paddock, get all subdivision all over the place? He saw you must have been around here. I said I just came into the country a few weeks ago.
He said, yeah, but back in the spring of 88, this place is out of controls. You see, we kept making feed and silage and everything. We just couldn’t keep up with it. We’re cutting everything. I said, yeah, but now it’s all grown back and it’s all the same thing. Yeah, we just get. But he said we just gave up on it and we just shut the gates because there’s anything out there. It’s all brown.
I said, oh, are you colorblind? I said I tell you what I said. Could you just open that gate? He doesn’t know who I am. I said could you just open that gate? I’m gonna go up there and at first group of heifers I don’t care how many, there are 50, 60, 100, who cares, i’m gonna open the gate. He said don’t worry about you, i see you wish you your time.
I said oh anyway, let the heifers out. They walk down the raceway to walk in this paddock here. They start right there. They’re grazing like crazy and they just been fed. They’re grazing. It was said to have German says them.
He said, but then I got grazed very long. I said I tell you what I said I’m better of a hurry right now. I just came by, just look around. I said John cockle told me, stop by and you’re trying to do some grazing, or. I said if you want to do it, okay, and if you don’t, i don’t care, but it’s. What should I be doing? I said see all the dry stack get up there and everything like that. I said just let them all out. And I said just for your sake. I said is this all yours as far as I can see? so that’s all mine. I said I hope it doesn’t rain for at least two or three months. When it does rain again. This is we’re gonna grow. But right now It’s not gonna regrow very well because it’s all been mature. But if you can just nip off, you don’t have to graze it down. I just just eat something.
And then tomorrow, moving to another area, who cares? It does have to be a rotation, just do some grazing. I forgot about him. And early September comes and starts raining, calls me up. He said hey, what should I do now? I said start feeding your supplementary feed, because I’m gonna go slub. Side that, that dry matter is gonna go to mush. For a few weeks We feed the dry matter and then start your rotation grant and you couldn’t believe it. Early October is like a mini spring. He’s all I can bring my milk, i don’t know. Set up for the autumn, now for winter, you know, stockpile feeding, get on to our long rotation and this is mother’s nature is gonna compensate you for summer. Gonna set you up for next year and you want to leave that behind. You don’t want that to follow you around and where you go. That’s Charlie, old pits. At that time they’re milk and 3000 cows, about 4,000 acres largest. Since he sold that to his son, he went down in Louisiana and developed another big grass dairy. Anyway, that’s, that’s how they got into grazing seriously.
0:47:26 – Cal Hardage
Alan, we need to move on to the overgrazing section and we are going to talk about Pastor walks. So you talked just a little bit of ago about it, mr Hopkins, had you out there going. Tell us in the power observation with that, but tell us what is a pastor walk and what are you doing with one.
0:47:43 – Alan D. Henning
Basically looking at your feed inventory. So no words. The feed that’s on your farm. I don’t care of the hay over there. Solid stacks, some green and a green elevator someplace. The grass is out in your paddock.
Whatever, you doing an assessment Every so often, but what you had to do is be consistent because once you have consistent points, you can draw a line to see if you’re improving or going down whatever. You have to do it consistently So you can do it once a week. Hopkins used to do it every ten days, three times a month, but at least once a week. But also your thought process on your overall management of your farm and your business And what you I highly recommend. You bring your wife, you bring your girlfriend, you bring your dad, just like I want to first walk with Hopkins.
You learn so much and you start talking about everything. You get away from the phone or don’t take it home with you And you learn so much and what you do is you actually have a Xerox copy of your map of your farm. It doesn’t have to be to scale, just draw one on thing, just draw. It doesn’t have to be haphazard, find to it later on, but the important thing is you have a map to show you where you’re gonna go. What you want to do is you write down the date and the weather condition this year historical weather, because our memories are short, oh yeah. So you write down the date and exactly what’s happening. You write down how many cows you have, or heifers, or what’s happening on the farm, some major events on your farm, and then you go out. Don’t worry about how many pounds of dry matter, whatever the story is, just do the basic score. But I just give you a heads up. Each score is about 400 pounds of dry matter, roughly.
So as I walk into my first paddock I’ll put a score on that. But also I’m making a comment that, whoo, it looks my clover. I don’t see many legume plants in here. What’s going on? better put a question mark there. Oh, the water trough. Look at that water trough is leaking. Yeah, you got to fix that. Then we come in and say this paddock, it looks a bit rough. There’s clumps of grass here, there and what’s going on. So right away you’re starting to get a feel of what I should do or shouldn’t do.
So then at the end of your walk, you sit down, you sess out and then you work out how many acres of each score that you have on the farm. Okay, so many, so many ones. Me two, so many, three, so many, four, so many acres. So roughly, you got to know what you got to know how many acres are in a paddock. So, anyway, you do that assessment And then you establish your graph. Okay, the first line, you’re kind of gifting. But then when the second line comes in, you know if you’re making progress. You’re saying, oh, my gosh, the monofita. I need to slow down, speed up, i need more, whatever the story might be. And then you can work out your rotation. There’s a guide in my little booklet how many days rotation like right now in the Midwest, you need to be in over 30 to 40 day rotation. Doesn’t matter how many acres you have 30 to 40 days, that’s the power of the grass wall. Now you keep referring to your guide.
0:50:37 – Cal Hardage
There is your guide available. How does our listeners get it?
0:50:41 – Alan D. Henning
People want it. I can Xerox it off and send it to you. I just got a picture on the back. That was our farm in New, zealand, our last farm Oh yes, our cows and everything like that.
0:50:50 – Cal Hardage
Thank you, alan. Alan has sent us his booklet and it is available at the grazing grass community. just go over there, log in and you can view it there or download it. Thank you again, alan. And moving to our famous four same four questions we ask of all of our guests, we’re doing it a little bit different today. We’re gonna ask a couple of them. Alan, can you tell us about some books that’s been influential for you?
0:51:17 – Alan D. Henning
The first Jewish on Dairy Grass to Milk by MacMacon, And he was a researcher at Rooker Research Number Two in Waikato, new Zealand, and wrote this book Grass to Milk. This is the Bible of grazing in New Zealand But everybody knows about this. Andre Vawson Grass for the Activity. He’s a Frenchman but he also Vawson wrote this book.
0:51:37 – Cal Hardage
So grass and cancer. Yeah, it’s powerful.
0:51:40 – Alan D. Henning
Just our general health and especially now what’s happening in America about our health and everything. This book was written back in 1952. We were not used at Oklahoma. You’re at Nic of the Woods, oh yeah it is Grasses and grassland farming.
That’s powerful, it’s got a lot of good information on it Basic information about species and just the thought process and everything like this. And then also here’s another one Growing Pastures in the South Combs C-O-M-B-S Combs. Yeah, i’m available. I just charge $65 an hour or $1 a minute, just over the phone or video. Whatever you want to do. Oh yes, doesn’t matter.
0:52:21 – Cal Hardage
So if someone’s interested in that, how do they contact you?
0:52:24 – Alan D. Henning
Best way is just give me a phone call. Phone number is 608-575-4172. It’s here in Madison, wisconsin. Just call me anytime. I carry it with me and call me anytime. I’m used to being interrupted all hours And then my email address is Alan Henning. It’s all one word A-L-A-N-H-E-N-N-I-N-G. at ATTnet. I look at my emails on my computer every night. I don’t look at them during the day at all.
0:52:53 – Cal Hardage
Well, very good, Alan. Really enjoyed the conversation today. Thanks for coming on and sharing with us. Thanks for making the opportunity. buddy, You’re listening to the Grazing Grass podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, And every episode features a grass farmer in their operation. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and want to keep the conversation going, visit our community at communitygrazinggrasscom. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the Grazing Grass podcast on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for past and future episodes. We also welcome guests to share about their own grass farming journey. So if you’re interested, feel free to fill out the form on grazinggrasscom under the Be Our Guest link. Until next time, keep on grazinggrass.