The Maryland Grazers Network and Chesapeake Bay Foundation in partnership with the University of Maryland Extension and the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) held a workshop and pasture walk last week with a focus on producing and managing high quality pastures for cows, sheep and goats, to ensure excellent meat products and enhanced soil conservation.

grazers workshop

Michael Heller demonstrates his rotational grazing system to a group of livestock farmers.

Around 35 livestock farmers from around the region showed up at Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro on a warm evening to learn from experts about grazing livestock, particularly on summer forage. The workshop lasted for close to 6 hours and included ag researchers, ag marketing professionals, and experienced farmers who have mastered this system to share their best practices. Michael Heller, livestock farm manager at Clagett farm, hosted the group (and with charm and whit!) delivered  a tour, light meal (grass-fed burgers and ice cream of course), and introduced the knowledgeable folks he turned to when deciding to raise livestock 100% grass-fed livestock many years ago.  Farmers noted that had spoken with or knew of Mike Heller, but many said it was helpful to go to Mike’s farm and see in-person how he was implementing his systems for the first time.

Speakers represented USDA, University of Maryland Extension, Soil Conservation, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, NRCS, and SMADC’s Southern Maryland Meats. Programs like the Maryland Grazers Network and Maryland FarmLINK filled in throughout the night with opportunities for farmers. Most impressive, was that the speakers had first-hand experience in raising grass-fed meats, referencing their own proven techniques while also speaking to the research.

Click photo to watch video

Click photo to watch rainfall soil demo video.

It was great to see a workshop focused on helping a group of farmers from all over the spectrum- from experienced grass-fed farmers there to learn something new about summer forage annuals, to a slew of young farmers ready to try grass-fed livestock for the first time, to farmers who were ready to transition or were thinking about changes to their production system.

The workshop covered ratios of types of pasture from perennial pasture, mixed summer annuals, down to individual species such as cow peas, sunn hemp, millet, sudex, tillage radish, etc. Just like in vegetable production, soil health is imperative to grass-fed livestock systems. Yates Claggett, Soil Conservation, showed different crops and grasses affect on soil health based on a rainfall simulator demonstration.

Another demonstration showcased on how synthetic fertilizers are absorbed into the soils and plants in pastures and how bare soils and shallow root systems intensify run-off. Steve Darcey, the District Manager for Prince Georges Soil Conservation District, spoke of the importance of how our farming practices can benefit or harm our soils.  Steve, Maryland’s first Soil Health Champion with NACD, said that a 1% increase in soil organic matter allowed the soil to hold an additional inch of rain which has tremendous benefits for pastures and crops.  Lastly, the workshop covered best practices to marketing, labeling and selling meats (click here to view PDF Slides).

If you’re interested in more information, check out the The Grazers Network, Southern Maryland Meats, and  the Amazing Grazing Directory. Would you be interested in a poultry workshop?  Let us know at