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12 Aprils, Year-Round Grazing

At the "University of Farmer Tom," the cows blazed a trail of innovation!

A few key mishaps on the fields of Pelzer, South Carolina led to the a-ha moments when owner and farmer, Tom Trantham, transitioned his farm from just getting by, to a growing and thriving home for the happiest cows.

Although Tom Trantham was one of South Carolina’s top producing dairymen back in the 1980s, his business was struggling. He ran a typical confined feeding operation and his feed bill alone ate up 65 percent of his gross income. Then in April 1989, by chance, his cows broke out of the feeding area into a seven-acre field full of natural lush April growth. Trantham noted a two-pound average increase per cow in milk production the next day, and things have never been the same since.

With a grant from SARE in 1993, Clemson University researchers Jean Bertrand and Fred Pardue worked with Trantham to study his system in detail. Through that grant and a process of continuous improvement, 12 Aprils is now a thriving and profitable dairy. As the name of his dairy implies—12 Aprils Dairy—Trantham’s goal is to provide an April-type feed for his cows every month of the year. He achieves that by planting his 29 paddocks with a succession of crops that provide the type of growth the cows are most hungry for and that boost milk production.

Trantham is quick to note that his emphasis on year-round crops makes his system an atypical pasture-based rotational grazing system. It’s not for everyone, and the crop mix is quite specific to his farm and geographic location.

Watch the video to learn more and to see how Trantham’s system might be adapted to your region.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FS99-102, Cattle Lane Construction Alternatives That Enhance Intensive Grazing Systems.

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