Raymond Meismer owns a family farm raising corn, soybeans and legume/grass hay as well as a spring calving herd on 300 acres of owned and rented land. His cow/calf herd had been grazing 4 acres of not-tillable, steeply sloped pasture.
Meismer hoped to determine if a five-year rotational grazing system could increase profits while minimizing the impact on the Illinois River Watershed. To increase productivity, Meismer moved the herd to a managed grazing pasture where cash crops were formerly grown. He divided the pasture into five paddocks of 9 to 12 acres each by an electric fence. He also made water available with a “Hydraulic Ram Pump,” which brings water from a spring to a storage tank, and to the drinking tank inside a paddock from there. The water is carried by ¾ inch commercial hoses, because of their flexibility and the frequency at which the tanks must be moved. Since the cows no longer have direct access to the spring, erosion has slowed and water quality has improved.
Using no-till methods, corn for silage has been planted in one plot, and soybeans in another. The remaining three are planted with a grass/legume forage mix of red clover, alfalfa, orchard grass, brome grass and timothy. Meismer is still experimenting with different mixtures, however, to obtain the best yields and regrowth after intense grazing.
At the end of the project, Meismer found he could sustain 37 calf/cow pairs on 72.1 acres of managed pasture, compared to 32 pairs on 56.5 acres of natural forage. The net return for calf production more than compensated for the loss of cash crops on the transitioned land, at $65.05 per acre compared to $59.70 per acre for soybeans and $55.73 per acre for corn.