A diverse group interested in pasture-based dairying attended the 9th Mid-Atlantic Dairy Grazing Conference and Organic Field Day in Chestertown, Maryland, July 25-27. The program consisted of talks by dairy graziers, university scholars and dairy professionals covering a broad range of topics, from starting and managing a pasture-based dairy to economics of reducing grain usage and value-added products. Wednesday and Thursday ended with dairy tours and active discussion over supper.

Ed and Matt Fry of Fair Hill Farms, Inc. toured the group of conference attendees around the 565-acre farm near Chestertown.

The farm includes 400 certified organic acres for crop and hay production as well as facilities for milking and housing 320 Holstein and Brown Swiss cows. The milking cows are confinement-fed and replacement heifers and dry cows are rotationally grazed when pasture is available.

The Frys have an excellent nutrient management plan that meets the strict requirements of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They use liquid manure (after passive sand separation) as fertilizer.

Conference participants had great questions and suggestions for the Frys regarding pasture management.


It was an opportunity for many participants to see a farm not using pasture as a predominant forage for lactating cows and get them thinking about how the farm might transition some crop production to pasture, if that fit with the goals of the producers.


Judy Gifford and Bob Fry of St. Brigid’s Farm in Kennedyville graciously opened their farm to conference attendees for a rotation of talks from dairy professionals and supper in the barn.

St. Brigid’s Farm milks 80 registered Jersey cows intensively grazed on 55 acres and also raises grass-fed Jersey beef and veal for consumers and local restaurants.

Their permanent pastures consist of mainly perennial ryegrass and clover, with a few pastures planted with brown midrib sorghum-sudan grass for summer grazing.

After a brief introduction to the farm, Kevin Ogles from the NRCS demonstrated soil runoff potential of soils ranging from conventionally tilled cropland to well-managed pasture using a rainfall simulator. The results were surprising to many but reinforced the idea that well-managed pasture and adequate forage structure build the root profile, allowing for greater infiltration of water and subsequently less runoff.

Participants then rotated through talks about matching forage species to soil types, fly management in pasture-based dairies, and estimation of forage quantity and quality in paddocks. Each session was more of a discussion than a lecture, as participants willingly shared their own opinions and experiences.

Besides the farm tours, conference attendees also had the opportunity to hear about management of different grazing dairies in the air-conditioned theater of Washington College.

Holly (Burley) Moore shared her path to managing a dairy of her own, including how her experiences in New Zealand shaped her plans for her own grass-based dairy in New York.

Greg Heidemann guided the audience through a virtual tour of the Horizon Organic dairy in Kennedyville.


Horizon Organic focuses on holistic management to maintain soil, forage, and animal health and implements a “Cow Time Budget,” allowing cows ample time to express their natural behaviors in addition to being milked.

Heidemann likened a dairy cow’s daily performance to that of a human jogging for six hours straight.

Clifford Hawbaker shocked the crowd a little, explaining how he manages his certified organic dairy to be seasonal-calving, entirely grass-fed and only milked once a day.

Adequate pasture stockpiling and hay supplementation help his 300 cows and 150 heifers get through the winter. He markets his milk through Trickling Springs Creamery, receiving a premium for his grass-fed, organic milk.

A panel of dairy farmers selling added-value products helped increase awareness of potentially profitable ventures.

Bobby Prigel of Prigel Family Creamery told his family’s story of building a creamery amongst lawsuits from neighbors while maintaining a pasture-based, certified organic herd of Jersey cattle. The family is now selling ice cream and whole milk, and plans to add yogurt, reduced fat milk and cheese in the near future.

Holly Foster of Chapel’s Country Creamery told of the farm’s beginnings and her excitement to dairy, despite having no farming background.

After attending a cheese course at California Polytechnic University, Holly was hooked on cheesemaking. The creamery gets all of its milk from their 58 grazing Jersey cows.

Holly started making cheese at the facility after her fourth child was born and hasn’t stopped since. She and her husband Eric were among the first farmers in Maryland to sell raw milk cheeses on-farm. Now, they produce seven different cheeses and three different yogurts, marketing at farmers' markets as well as direct to consumers and to two distributors.

No matter the background of the conference participants, everyone was able to learn something from the comprehensive schedule of the 9th Mid-Atlantic Dairy Grazing Conference and Organic Field Day.

The proceedings are available in print or CD form for $5. Contact Steve Washburn at (919) 515-7726 or by email . PD

—Author Keena Mullen is a PhD student at North Carolina State University studying alternatives to antibiotics for treating mastitis in dairy cattle.

TOP RIGHT: Ed Fry of Fair Hill Farms, Inc. discussing production or organic soybeans and corn.

MIDDLE RIGHT: Jersey cattle at St. Brigid’s Farm grazing summer annuals.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Mike Lamborn, consultant with DFA Dairy Grazing, explaining measures of pasture quantity and quality. Photos courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Dairy Grazing Conference.