The Mason family has always been interested in conservation practices. Our father practices contour farming before he started putting in terraces in 1951. He also filled in erosion areas and planted his waterways to brome grass. This was the first farm to be placed in the CRP program in our area.
In 1994, we began work to convert CRP acres to productive grazing lands by reintroducing, encouraging and carrying for native grasses and forbs in the pastures. We applied for a 1994-1995 SARE grant titled “Grass Fat Lambs – Preserving CRP Land” in which we demonstrated to local farmers the profitability of leaving the CRP in grassland. In this endeavor we learned that sheep were not a viable livestock to use during the conversion as they would not enter into the tall standing grass and no animal impact was accomplished. Therefore, we substituted buffalo for the grazer and completed a study using test plots to show eight treatments for the removal of the dead vegetation from the land stimulating new forage to grow.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The current project also focused on how to best return the CRP to productive grazing. Our goals were to expand the demonstration from eight ½ acre plots set aside to study biomass removal to 160 acres of primarily switch grass where we would be working on paddock designs, watering, and the impact of larger grazers on the land.
We found that the old canapé had caused a deterioration of the existing stand by keeping the sun from the ground causing large patches of bare ground. Therefore we did a little seeding in some of the sparse areas by scattering seeds (reaped earlier in the fall) during the winter thaw and allowing the buffalo hoof action to work them into the soil. We were very pleased to have a better stand of grass this spring and summer with fewer open spots and fewer weeds.
We systematically lead the buffalo from paddock to paddock every two to three days through the entire spring, summer and fall. During the early part of 1996, we purchased an additional quarter section of CRP ground adjoining our land and began work on the perimeter fence and paddocks increasing our project to 320 acres. When the land was released from CRP, we were able to start the animal impact by grazing these paddocks as well. Therefore, we were able to watch the impact of the larger animals on the tall CRP stand.
We worked very closely this year with Terry Gompert, Know County Extension Educator from Center, Nebraska who has a great interest in grazing, conducts many seminars, and heads many grazing oriented groups. This has been a great outreach opportunity as he has been able to share what we were seeing with many many people.
We also started giving tours through our grass covered hills and into our buffalo last May. In these tours, people were attracted to our ranch by the ability to view buffalo, but while we take them out through the paddocks either Larry or Monty are with them pointing out native plants, the types of grasses used in the paddocks, the conservation aspects of grass farming, and a comparison of buffalo with more familiar forms of livestock.
Being in the Midwest, most of our guests were neighbors and people in close vicinity who bring their visitors form other parts of the country. These people are mostly living in rural areas or were raised in rural areas and asked wonderful questions.
We have planted a small demonstration plot of native grasses in the yard. These are allowed to grow uninterrupted by grazing so our guests can compare the height that is natural for the plant to the plants we have in the paddock. This is a nice comparison showing clearly the amount of grass left in a grazed paddock.
In one of our support documents, we show the results of the annual Nebraska State Buffalo Association auction held at the Valentine Livestock Auction Co., in Valentine, NE. We believe this is a good example of the benefits of rotational grazing of CRP land. We were commended for having very good looking animals by other producers and as you can see, benefited financially from the management decisions to keep the grasses productive and nutritious allowing us to top the market with our animals.
The inter-seeding we did during the winter months certainly helped the open, bare spaces between the clump grasses and we feel there were fewer numbers of the milk weed that we had to contend with after we experienced last year’s burn that was too cool.
We are also very encouraged by the return of the Dung Beetle which was eliminated in the past by uses of chemicals in conventional farming.
We learned that it is important to leave a good stand of grass to keep the weeds from taking over in the warm season areas. We felt we might have grazed it too heavily over the winter leaving the grass too short to compete with some weeds. We have remedied this by acquiring more land and making more paddocks so there will be more winter graze. For animals that do not depend on winter graze, this will not be such an important item.
You can improve net income per acre with less investment by using sustainable agriculture techniques in pasture management.
By using a managed intensive grazing program, you can increase the stocking rate on existing acres. You also can cut down on fertilizer costs and in some cases eliminate the need entirely. Also, producers can lessen winter time feed expenses because the grass maintains more nutrition in its dormant time and can play a larger role in the diet of livestock.
You can reduce the summertime stress of fly season and better manage parasite control because the animals are always on clean grass which will increase the daily gain of the livestock.
Also, the need for herbicide is greatly reduced and can be eliminated because of the style of grazing used.
The overall grazing season average daily gain is increased because the grass maintains lushness and is not given a chance to get too far into maturity. On forage samples taken at mid-season, we had some pasture at 21% protein level.
We printed and distributed brochures to advise people of the tours available and the value of implementing buffalo meat into their diets.
We also contacted area newspapers and television stations with regard to the guests hosted here at Tarbox Hollow. The CRP tour especially was featured on Channel 4, a local Sioux City television station, as it was attended by approximately 100 people.
We were extremely honored to be selected as an Area Winner of the Quad-States Conservation Awards Program by the Lewis & Clark Natural Resources District. It was the Quad-States final awards year after 50 years on honoring people for their efforts in conservation.
We have hosted visiting 4-H groups, boy scouts, nursing home residents, Junior Willis Homemakers, church groups, RC & D tour, representatives form the Kellogg Foundation, CRP Tour, a water conservation group, nine different school groups, and a senior citizen group for Iowa. We also spoke at the Optimists Club in South Sioux City, NE, the Kiwanis Club in Sgt. Bluff, IA, Dixon Alumni and the Rotary Club in Wayne, NE.