Eighty happy Jersey cows graze the pastures of Francis Thicke’s 730-acre Radiance Dairy organic farm in Fairfield, Iowa. The cows produce the key ingredient for the bottled milk, yogurt and cheese processed right on the farm and sold to nearby grocery stores and restaurants.
Thicke practices rotational grazing in 60 paddocks. “We have three groups that move around—the milking cows, the dry cows and bred heifers, and the third group is yearlings,” he says.
A Shade Haven mobile shade structure moves with the milking cows. The addition of the Shade Haven gives Thicke more control over which paddocks he uses regardless of the weather. It also allows him to control nutrient distribution.
“I have quite a few paddocks with trees. Before the Shade Haven, I would always give the cows the paddocks with the trees on the hot summer days, and at night I put them on paddocks with no trees,” says Thicke. “Now with the shade I reverse that.”
“I can move the shade to a different place every time,” he adds. “The key thing is that I put them where there are no trees in the daytime and use the shade to manage my nutrients. That’s the reason I bought it.”
Pasture management is something Thicke knows a lot about. Raised on a farm in La Crescent, Minn., he has a Ph.D. in soil science and worked as National Program Leader for Soil Science at the USDA Extension Service in Washington D.C. “Then 25 years ago I came back to farming here in Iowa,” he explains.
Thicke runs Radiance Dairy with his wife Susan. He has been a long-time advocate of organic farming practices since the 1970s when he and his brothers converted the family’s dairy farm to organic. He serves on the National Organic Standards Board and is active in numerous organic organizations.
Thicke’s focus on soil health extends to the cover crops that he uses for field crops and for grazing. The cover crops control weeds and build the soil.
Building a healthy pasture is made easier thanks to the Shade Haven. Thicke appreciates the ease of collapsing the shade and redeploying it. “Although most of the time I move it from paddock to paddock without folding it up,” he says. “It is easy to hook up and pull the Shade Haven through paddock gates and down lanes with an ATV, without folding it up.”
As a mobile shade structure owner for less than one year, Thicke is among the many rotational graziers throughout the U.S. discovering the benefits of portable shade in their grazing systems. We at Shade Haven look forward to learning about additional impacts of shade at Radiance Dairy.
See photos and more information at Radiance Dairy’s Facebook page.