Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council will co-host the 2013 Winter Forage Conference at four locations on Jan. 22-25.

The theme for the conference is “Kicking the Hay Habit: Increasing the Profitability of Virginia’s Ruminant Livestock Operations.” “Hay costs are at record highs, driven by high input cost and more recently the Midwest drought,” said Gordon Groover, Extension economist. “This conference will provide producers with an ideal opportunity to gain an understanding of 'kicking the hay habit' and the details needed to determine if a year-round grazing system makes sense for their livestock operations.”

This year’s keynote speaker, Jim Gerrish of American GrazingLands Services LLC, is an internationally known expert on forage livestock systems. He has 20 years of systems research and outreach experience as a faculty member at the University of Missouri, as well as 20 years of commercial cattle and sheep production on his family farm in northern Missouri. The University of Missouri’s Forage Systems Research Center rose to national prominence as a result of Gerrish’s research and leadership. His research encompasses many aspects of plant-soil-animal interactions and provides a foundation for many of the basic principles of management intensive grazing.

In the morning presentation, Gerrish will cover matching the calving season to forage resources and the environment, inventorying and budgeting forage resources, selecting the right type of cow for extended grazing systems, and winter grazing options. After lunch, he will discuss the practical points of successfully grazing winter pastures, including pasture utilization and rumen function, supplementation on winter pastures, and tools and tips for getting the job done.

Participants will also hear from Greg Halich, associate professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Kentucky, and J.B. Daniel, forage and grassland agronomist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Halich will provide participants with information on the profitability differences of grazing systems, including spring versus fall calving and the cost of grazing versus making and feeding hay. Daniel will help farmers understand how to plan and develop a farm infrastructure that supports grazing systems, and he will share details of NRCS cost-share programs.

This year, the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council will also feature local livestock producers at each conference site to discuss how they have extended the grazing season on their farms. These producers will provide conference participants with real insight on the challenges and benefits of implementing grazing systems that reduce the need for conserved forage.

The daylong conference will be repeated at four locations.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 22, at the Warren County Community Center in Front Royal
  • Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the Weyers Cave Community Center in Weyers Cave
  • Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Wytheville Meeting Center in Wytheville
  • Friday, Jan. 25, at the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone

Each conference session will run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

For more information or to register for the conference, contact Margaret Kenny at 434-292-5331. The $35 early registration fee must be postmarked by Jan. 3, 2013. After Jan. 3, the registration fee will be $50 per person. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is also sponsoring the conference.

Visit the VFGC website for additional details and registration information.