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Gormans earn conservation honor

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 09/22/2011 8:43 AM

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GOODHUE, MINN. — If you sit quietly in Bill and Susan Gorman's pasture, you can hear the Jerseys rhythmically pulling mouthfuls of orchard, timothy and brome grass.

The Jerseys are efficient mowers, harvesting the pastures to produce milk that's marketed through Organic Valley. Bill Gorman milks them once a day in a big, old, red barn on his family farm. The cows are rewarded for their trip to the barn with oats and barley.

It takes a Jersey to do once-a-day milking, Gorman said. Jerseys don't produce the volume of milk a Holstein does, but their milk has higher butterfat and protein. He tries to have a seasonal dairy, taking a couple months off in winter.

The 40 cows spend the entire year outside. They start grazing residual grass from the year before as soon as the snow is gone and are chased into a lot by the barn by the snow. Gorman said he's had them on pasture as late as Christmas, but Dec. 1 is when the cows normally come off pasture. They are normally on pasture by April 1.

Gorman's entire 160-acre farm is fenced and the cattle rotationally grazed. In addition to his predominantly Jersey herd, his son has a few Angus. He also raises his heifers and keeps his steers until they are 400 to 500 pounds.

"Every acre sees a cow some time during the year," he said.

Gorman raises raises a little bit of corn —10 to 15 acres — oats and barley. Winter triticale and sorghum/sudan are part of the rotation. Everything has some sort of cover, he explained.

"The concept is to lose no soil," Gorman said.

He explained it like this: He grew up caring for livestock and no one likes their livestock running off to the neighbors.

"Well, I don't like my soil running off to the neighbors," Gorman said.

His farm has several soil types and there's only one flat field, a few acres at the bottom. Most of the farmland slopes this way and that, climbing up from that one flat field at the bottom. There's even a couple rock outcroppings on sidehills.

Conserving the soil on his farm was his father's mission as well, Gorman said. He installed conservation terraces on the hills, dug waterways and ponds.

Gorman is improving what his father did, incorporating the concept of whole farm conservation.

Gorman worked with the Goodhue County Soil and Water Conservation District on some grazing plans and Goodhue County Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist Tom Steger gave him a nice aerial map of the farm that he uses to point out permanent pastures and areas planted to oats, sorghum or corn.

"I've been grazing since the early '90s," he said. In 2003, he bought the cows and in 2005 he turned organic.

"The longer we're organic, we see more things that are interesting," Gorman said.

He enjoys seeing birds and critters. They see pheasants, grouse, meadowlarks, bobolinks, eagles and hawks. Every so often, they see something new, Gorman said.

The last few years, Gorman has been working on a Conservation Stewardship Program contract. He's enrolled in the program and his enhancements include avoiding cutting hay in the evening because critters tend to hunker down in the fields at night, cutting hay fields from the inside out so critters can flee and moving salt and mineral feeders to keep the ground where they're located from getting trampled.

The Gormans' conservation ethic was recognized by the Goodhue SWCD earlier this year when they were named the county's Conservation Farmers of the Year.

"It's not such a personal thing, but people recognize what's going on here," Gorman said.