Incorporating Holistic Resource Management

Final Report for FNC95-120

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1995: $4,423.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Larry and his brother David farm in a partnership. The unit consists of 3000 acres of owned and rented cropland, hay land, tame pasture and native rangeland. In addition, we also hold a grazing permit on the Sheyenne National Grasslands. Crops raised on the unit include corn, wheat, soybeans, alfalfa and rye. Our cow/calf herd consists of 175 pair with an additional 270 yearling bred heifers. In 1996 we ran 958 yearling heifers as stockers.

Larry’s family:
Wife Judy is a registered nurse and works part time in a hospital in Fargo. Children include Tom, age 8, Wade age 7, and Bryce age 6.

David’s family:
Wife Paula, children Tim, Patricia, Carl and Andrew.

Our goal of this project was to prevent overgrazing, to enhance plant vigor, increase plant diversity, and convert highly erodible cropland to hay land and native rangeland. To leave ample cover for wildlife and control overgrowth of woody plant species (willows and Russian olive).

In February of 1995, Larry and I attended a 3 day course on Introduction to Holistic Resource Management (HRM). We were introduced to some new ideas and people who were trying some untraditional practices with great results. We know we had to do something different than what had been done for years and years. Our rangeland had uneven use and was deteriorating. Previous to this grant, we were rotating our cattle through three pastures on a rapid move schedule. We were unsatisfied with the results of this management. It resulted in uneven utilization (some grasses grazed heavily while others ungrazed), increased goldenrod and other forbs, and low vigor of desirable grasses. The pastures were becoming dominated by cool season invader grasses, mainly Kentucky bluegrass. Kentucky bluegrass quickly becomes rank and unpalatable if unused and mats down. It restricts the growth of desirable warm season grasses and does not make good wildlife habitat.

Woody plants (primarily willows) are invading the low areas within the pastures. In an effort to control them, we tried haying them but this proved very tough on the equipment. We also tried feeding salt and mineral in these areas in an attempt to increase the animal impact on the willows. We have included pictures of both the haying and the animal impacts.

[Editor’s note: There are pictures and other items included in this report that could not be posted on the website. If you would like to see theses please email us at [email protected] or call us at 800-529-1342. Thanks]

We did research on:
- intensive grazing management
- grass growth and the season in which different grasses grow
- rest/recovery periods needed for grasses to maintain or improve their vigor.
- Determining pasture size and number of pastures needed to meet our goals
- Types of grasses which dominate each pastures
- Types of fencing
o Cost of different types of fences
o Ease of construction
o Effectiveness in keeping livestock in pasture

In the end, we decided to use 2 wire electric boundary fences and single wire electric cross fences. We found that 1.75 inch PVC pipe and high tensile wire made the best and cheapest fence.

We started with 5 pastures in 1994, increased to 12 in 1995 and in 1996 we moved through 17 pastures. Size of the pastures range from 320 acres to 36 acres. With 80 acres being Larry’s favorite size to achieve not only even grazing but adequate animal impact.

Our rotations lasted from 2 to 11 days (time animals were in a particular pasture). This gave the grazed plants 60 to 80 days to recover before the animals returned to any one pasture. Our purpose was that during times of rapid plant growth, we would move the cattle quickly so that they would not be able to graze the grass regrowth. This ensures the plant has the needed time to replace food reserves which it stores in its roots. This enhances plant vigor and prevents the robbing from the root systems.

We planted 250 acres of highly erodible cropland to alfalfa and smooth brome grass. Our intentions are the hay it for the first few years and then incorporate these fields into our grazing system. We have also planted 50 acres back to native grasses. Our sandy soils dry out very quickly and therefore, we feel they are not meant to be farmed.

By being flexible and making the switch to yearling in 1996, we were ale to make a profit while the majority of our neighbors continue to lose money in cow/calf operations. In addition to the switch to yearlings, our grazing management allowed us to run 29% more animals (based upon actual use figures). Even with this increase, our utilization figures show we are leaving adequate grass to maintain/improve the prairie resources and increase wildlife habitat.

We have included numerous photographs and field notes which further document the “on the ground” results of our project.

We are still developing our approach to HRM. During this grant period, we have learned a great deal. To start with, we have learned more about grass this past 18 months than we have our whole lives. The different varieties, seasons in which they thrive, the good, the bad and the preferred for wildlife and cattle. Changes don’t occur overnight. The rangeland slowly deteriorated and it will slowly come back. Although we have found more warm season grasses in the pastures this year than in years past, we know there is still untapped potential. With the longer recovery/rest periods, we expect the warm season grasses to come back stronger and stronger.

We have realized we are grass farmers and that we market our grass through our cattle. We have some to understand our grass resource better and now realize that you cannot check the condition of a pasture by driving by in your pickup. You must get out and walk, and in some cases, crawl on your knees to truly check the pastures.

Of course when anyone tries anything new or different than the way it has always been done, most people criticize and tell you it won’t work. We have been lucky to have worked with people with such great knowledge, devotion and generosity. People cannot shut out agency personnel. The more people you include, the more ideas you have when you all brainstorm. There is a great deal of knowledge available as well as people who are willing to share their knowledge. Even those people or groups you think are your enemies, if you sit down separately and define your goals, they are probably the same. So, you must work together.

Family is also an important part of our “whole”. In this area, I wanted to say our family’s quality of life suffered. We did an incredible amount of work for this project. We put in 9 miles of fence (shown in green on the enclosed map). We did have a hired man, but we spent time as a family working together to complete this project. The time spent together as a family, whether its work or play, is valuable. It has taught our 7 year old son that he wants to live in town when he grows up. Or, at least somewhere where there is no fencing, especially when it is hot!

Bernadette Braun is a range specialist with the US Forest Service. The Forest Service is the administrators over the Sheyenne National Grassland. She has helped us immensely in monitoring the range conditions. She has helped us learn grass and plant species and taught us the importance of diversity. She has a true love for her profession. She has not only helped us with this project on her work time but has spent many days on her own time. She has never refused to answer a question or drive out to a pasture on a last minute request whether it is a weekend or week day. Her goal is to see a better rangeland and will go to whatever extremes she can to assist the ranchers. Her knowledge and devotion are extremely valuable.

Jeff Printz is an area range conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Jeff is another “producer friendly” government employee. He has a love for the range and a strong desire to keep the farmer on the farm. He has driven many miles and spent many days of his own time to help us identify plants, plan stocking rates and rotations, grass clippings and determining utilization amounts. He knows of other producers trying new things and is always seeking information to pass along. He is a valuable resource person.

Steve Fischer is a District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Steve has helped us obtain maps to give us a birds’ eye view of our operation. He has assisted with recommended stocking rates and utilization.

Wayne Berry is an HRM instructor and a professor at UND-Williston. Wayne has inspired us to rethink our paradigms and look at all our resources differently. He has made us think about our goals and develop a holistic goal which includes a production, quality of life and landscape description. We are learning to test our decisions against this goal to see if our action(s) will move us toward, or away from, our holistic goal.

Jay Mar is an RC&D Coordinator with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Jay was a major organizer for our range tour. He helped with the photography.

Kevin Sedivec is the State Grassland Specialist with the NDSU Extension Service. Kevin spoke during the tours on grass identification.

Greg Link, ND Game and Fish, and Kurt Hansen, Us Forest Service, are both members of the Sheyenne HRM Workgroup who have provided input of plant identification and wildlife habitat.

We are seeing more warm season grasses return to the plant communities and an overall increase in the vigor of certain desirable forage species. We are obtaining as much or more utilization and leaving more cover for the benefit of both the livestock and wildlife. We are seeing improvement in the nutrient cycling as evidenced by the lack of cow pies in the pastures inspite of the increased stocking rates and animal densities.

On July 13, 1996, our project was the main stop for a multi-county summer range tour. Counties included Barnes, Cass, Ransom, Richland, Sargent (all in North Dakota) and Wilkin (Minnesota). This tour included discussions on native rangelands, grassland plant identification, plant growth, rangeland site/soils, plant physiology, plant regrowth, grazing preferences, estimating utilization amounts, stocking rates and range management techniques. We encouraged this to be a family event and included a prairie scavenger hunt for the youngsters. This prairie scavenger hunt provided an opportunity for the kids to learn about the prairie and all the things that make the prairie home. Approximately 65 people attended the tour which included food and entertainment in the evening.

After attending a workshop on Introduction to Holistic Resource Management, the participants in our area formed a workgroup. Our goal was to use the group support to keep ourselves “on track” with the education of HRM, and implementing new or different ideas. We gather to discuss and monitor our rangelands. We have sponsored workshops on Introduction to Holistic Resource Management, Biological Monitoring and Planning, Wealth Generation and Goal Setting.

Larry has been assigned the duty of being a member of the range committee for the Sheyenne Valley Grazing Association. Along with three other rancher members (two of whom also took the HRM course) and the range conservationist from the US Forest Service, decide the outcome of grazing request form other permittees. These requests include whether to allow additional cattle into the allotments or allow shorter/longer grazing rotations. I feel he has educated a few of the association members on grass types and use of pastures. One particular permittee wanted to run more cattle in his allotment and became very upset when his request was denied. Larry took additional time to take him to a good pasture and explained to him the signs of rangeland deterioration, what plants are desirable and what plants we what to see thrive. Larry is hopeful that this particular permittee understood and maybe he will change his management practices for the better.

Another incident occurred as out cattle and others were mixed. They all went out on horseback (still the best way to chase a cow) to round up and sort the livestock. The cattle cam from an allotment which is generally overgrazed and under rested. They thought our pastures looked like they had so much grass. Larry got off his horse and found a warm season grass in both pastures (Larry’s and the overgrazed) and explained the rest periods and the difference in the two plants. This provided a “rancher to rancher” educational opportunity.

Larry has also agreed to serve on an interagency Prairie Chicken Recovery committee. He serves on the committee with representatives from Us Forest Service, ND Game and Fish, NDSU Extension Service, and ND Chapter of the Wildlife Society.

Larry has also met and participated in interviews for articles which were being written for “The Nature Conservancy” and “Beef” magazines.

In September Larry spoke for the Society of Range Management tour.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.