Ryan Heinen, Land and Livestock Manager at Gwenyn Hill, has a background in grazing. He has learned and observed how well-managed grazing improves biodiversity on the farm. He believes that farmland and conservation land should be one in the same and is working to integrate the two concepts.
The growing system at Gwenyn Hill is governed by nature. The system includes hundreds of species of prairie grasses and plants. The ground at Gwenyn Hill is almost always covered with grass or crop. This helps improve soil health and structure and filters water before it returns to the headwaters of the Pewaukee Lake watershed. Healthy soil leads to clean air and water, high yielding crops, quality grazing land, diverse wildlife and beautiful landscapes.
Well managed pastures should have no run-off. The team at Gwenyn Hill feels very confident about their clean water contribution to the Pewaukee Lake, as the water leaving their farm is filtered through perennial crops.
The land surrounding Gwenyn Hill is well suited for drilling and growing grasses. They have gotten away from traditional row crop planting. Drilling native grasses and species has promoted biodiversity and offered a low input, low-cost management style for the dairy, beef and sheep herds.
Fencing around the farm’s fields has allowed for even further integration of crops and livestock. Fencing was a relatively low investment to achieve a greater goal of the farm. The livestock harvest their own feed and spread their own manure, offering a cost and time savings. Fencing was a small investment compared to the machinery that would have been needed to harvest the feed and spread the manure. Fencing has also offered an option to feed crops that did not thrive in the growing season.
The livestock’s diet is 75% grazing. Through trial and error and continuous experimentation, the team at Gwenyn Hill has learned they prefer to graze their cattle over growing corn. Ryan has learned which species of grasses will result in higher milk production. Sorghum Sudan and alfalfa are staples in the grazing system at Gwenyn Hill. They grow their own small grains to supplement the livestock’s diet.
The benefits of planting native prairie grasses go beyond beautification. The native prairie lands at Gwenyn Hill are used as grazing paddocks for the livestock herds. These areas are home to many different species of grass and native plants. Native prairie promotes biodiversity. The team at Gwenyn Hill has enjoyed the return of grassland songbirds and welcomes their arrival as a sign of a healthy system.
The entire ecosystem surrounding Gwenyn Hill benefits from the grazing system. Fly catching and bug eating birds follow the herd throughout the rotational grazing system. The sheep herd manages difficult to control weeds and the beef herd knocks down over-matured pastures, leaving a higher quality paddock for the dairy cows to support milk production.
Gwenyn Hill is far from done developing their farm and herd. They are in constant growth mode, always learning and changing to keep the land in farming. All facets of the farm work together to achieve sustainability, setting the farm up for success for years to come.
Rachel Gerbitz is WFBF’s Director of Sustainability Communications and Partnerships. In this newly-created role, she oversees the organization’s sustainability communication efforts. Rachel grew up in Rock County where she was involved in 4-H and the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association. She now lives in Kaukauna. In her spare time, Rachel manages her small herd of registered Jersey cattle.