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Cows graze on nature's bounty

October 05, 1998

 

Cove Mountain FarmBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

by: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The cows at Cove Mountain Farm graze all day in pastures of lush green grass creating a pastoral scene that belies a high-tech dairy management system.

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At Cove Mountain there are no giant tractors, acres of row crops or cows being milked three times a day in factory barns like most modern, conventional dairy farms.

Glenn Moyer runs the 330-acre farm on Pa. 456 west of Mercersburg. He said he hopes to make as much money milking fewer cows for fewer months of the year as a conventional farmer with a larger operation.

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Moyer's farm is grass-based - his cows get most of their own food by eating grass on the farm's 200 acres of pasture. The cows are moved from pasture to pasture on a regulated schedule. They are fed supplemental corn and soybean meal to maintain production, Moyer said.

Cove Mountain is a demonstration farm where visitors learn about the economic and environmental benefits of dairy grazing. A demonstration was given to area farmers on Friday.

The farm is owned by the American Farmland Trust, a 30,000-member, Washington, D.C.-based conservationist organization. The goal of the nonprofit group is preserving farmland.

Moyer leases the farm from the trust.

The farm was left to the trust in 1996 by the estate of Anthony and Anya Smith.

Anthony Smith, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, and his wife bought the farm in 1954 and ran it as a sideline. Smith died in 1992 and his wife died in 1994. Their wills specified that the farm be left in agriculture for educational purposes.

Moyer, 45, was recruited by the trust to run the farm. He moved there with his wife and 13-year-old daughter in 1996 from Somerset, Pa., where he still owns a working, grass-based dairy farm, he said.

Bryan Petrucci, 39, director of farms for the trust, said the organization spent $300,000 for repairs and improvements.

Included was a New Zealand, or swing-style, milking parlor that can handle 100 cows or more an hour. The machine, named after the country in which it was invented, allows the milking units to be swung from one side of the parlor to the other with little effort.

It costs less to install than a conventional system and is easier to use, Moyer said.

Moyer started milking in March with a mixed herd of 87 Holstein and Jersey cows. He said he will increase his herd to about 125 head next year.

A carefully planned breeding schedule will leave Moyer's cows dry in February and March, making his operation seasonal.

The cows will stay outside in ravines and woods to protect them from weather. Petrucci said the practice, called outwintering, is common in climates colder than that of Franklin County.

The calves will be born in March and April, Moyer said.

A good cow on a conventional dairy farm can produce 20,000 pounds of milk a year, said Philip Wagner, dairy expert with the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office in Chambersburg, Pa.

Moyer said while his cows make half that amount, they still net between $700 and $900 in 10 months.

"A grass-based operation is cheaper. It substitutes human labor with cow labor. They gather most of their own feed and distribute their own manure. It requires smaller investments in buildings, equipment and labor," Petrucci said.

Wagner said while only about 5 percent of Franklin County's 475 dairy farmers have grass-based operations, the trend is slowly growing.

"It has its niche. It's another good management tool. Some go that route and make it work, but not everybody can," Wagner said.

"Glenn (Moyer) has a system that can really make it work. He's a good manager and that's a good educational facility," he said.

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