Cattle, Grass and Streams: Can They Work Together as a Sustainable Ecosystem?

Final Report for FNC97-177

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1997: $4,690.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


This is a 160-acre rotationally grazed beef cow/calf operation consisting of 40 stock cows. Most of the calves are sold as feeders with some being grass fattened and direct marketed. The farm is marginal with parts of it being steep and wooded. Most of the level land is a gumbo type soil that is unfit for row crops. A small stream runs through the NE quarter of the farm. The only crops are rotational pasture and hay plus butternut lumber, which is sold to wood carvers.

I have been involved in sustainable practices on this farm since 1965 when it was purchased. Since 1983, no row crops, antibiotics, hormones, or herbicides have been used. The farm is thought of and managed as a whole ecosystem, not excluding streams, and all forms of life. Major decisions are based on 3-part goals, that is, they must by economically viable, environmentally friendly, and furnish my family and future generations an acceptable “quality of life”.

Goal: To make use of this farm as a “learning center” to show farmer, scientists and other professionals that it is possible for cattle, grass, and streams to co-exist in a successful ecosystem with proper grazing management.

Process/Research Component: The fenced wildlife area would be continued as before. The middle section would be changed from a narrow, fenced corridor to a larger riparian paddock. This middle section of the stream would be heavily impacted by cattle once in the early summer, then rested the remainder of the year. The upper section would be rotationally grazed in the normal rotations, which is about three days per month during the grazing season. These three trials should give us information to help determine the most sustainable system.

The grant funds will be used for part of my time, the researcher’s time, field day and fencing costs, and for a rock causeway. Because cattle need to cross the stream to reach different paddocks, a rock causeway will be designed and placed to limit stream bank erosion and overall impact. Larry Gates, a DNR Watershed Coordinator, has agreed to design and help with this project.

My educational plan or goal was to interest and allow individuals and groups to actually look at and experience the three trials on the stream. Also Larry Gates, a DNR Coordinator and I decided to make ourselves available for presentations to various groups.

• Dennis: Farmer/Consultant. A friend and mentor who helped me with observations and decisions.
• Pat Murphy: A Rotational Grazer with 1 ½ miles of trout stream. His farming system was used as a replicate to compare with the stream on this farm.
• Larry Gates: DNC Watershed Coordinator of SE-MN. We collaborated on research and did the field day presentations together. He is one of the leading experts on riparian management.
• Julia Frost: Grad Student/Researcher, Minnesota Fish & Wildlife Research Unit. Worked with me on local high school field trips on stream ecology.
• Steve Drakowski: County Extension Agent. Helped publicize field days for farmers and other professionals.
• Mark Kuling: Wabasha County Soil Conservation Service. Helped publicize and plan field days for farmers and other professionals.

Three main educational field days were conducted on the stream site.
1. Class held on stream site for all Lake City High School Biology and Ecology students on May 19, 1998. (128 allowed) [Editor’s Note: Lentz included selected student evaluations with his report.]
2. Minnesota Summer Conference for Agriculture Instructors Field day on cattle and streams on July 16, 1998. (18 attended)
3. Streams, Cattle, and Fish, farm pasture tour for farmers and other professionals on August 20, 1998. (26 attended)

Presentations to groups:
1. Colloquium in Sustainable Agriculture, University of Minnesota on December 2, 1997. (60 grad students and professors)
2. Clearwater Soil & Water Conservation District, Emphasis on Riparian Grazing Systems on April 20, 1998 (18 farmers attended)
3. Practical Farmers of Iowa, SARE in-service training, July 9, 1998
4. Facing a Watershed: Managing Profitable & Sustainable Landscapes in the 21st Century, Ames, Iowa, July 14, 1998

Many individuals and groups visited the stream. They included farmers, scientists, environmentalists, and county professionals. We did not tell people what was happening to the stream with the various trials of grazing and no grazing. We told them to observe and see for themselves just as Aldo Leopold did. This method seemed to work well. I thought there would be considerable animosity regarding cattle grazing in riparian areas however, this did not occur. Instead, with all the groups, there was great dialogue between the participants and presenters. At least 250 persons visited the stream during the grant year. I plan on continuing communicating with people and groups on the results which we find are becoming more and more noticeable. I already have been contacted to do at least four presentations on the stream in 1999. In April of 1999, a group of students from the Environmental Learning Center in Lake City will visit the site. In June the County Water Planners of MN will have their annual meeting at Rochester. They have asked Larry Gates and me to arrange a workshop on June 23, 1999 at the stream site.

I liked the simplicity and completeness of the grant format. I also thought the visit from Ken Schneider was encouraging and worthwhile. It is my wish that the results of the SARE grant Program be publicized as much as possible. Sustainable farming practices are necessary for a sustainable future.

Addition to Report for NCR-SARE Grant FNC97-177
It is widely accepted that rotational grazing can lead to greater plant diversity and also sometimes result in a return of some indigenous plants.

I decided to do a study of the plant species in three sections of the stream. The results are quite significant.

Section A: Grazed in the regular rotation, about 3 days per month.
Section B: Grazed no more that once each year, however, highly disturbed or impacted at that time.
Section C: Not grazed since 1967

Section A: 50 different species
Section B: 45 different species
Section C: 24 different species

The “B” Section was studied at an earlier date because the area had been rested for 1 year previously, and then highly impacted with 80 head of various cattle. I decided it would be better to record the species before the disturbance.


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.