Don't Take Grass for Granted

Final Report for FNC98-229

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1998: $1,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Three years before receiving this grant, we had subdivided one 17 acre rented pasture and 40 acres of land that we own. We saw an improvement in the productivity and well being of the land so we decided to sub-divide more pastures and return some cropland to pasture.

Our goal was to make our pasture land more productive, both for our livestock and for the game in our area – deer, pheasants and grouse. We knew that the acres were being under-utilized by poor grazing patterns and water distribution that could be improved. The grass species were not as productive as we thought they should be and it seemed there were some fertility shortages and weed concerns.

Dorothy attended a range camp at Golden Valley, ND conducted by the North Dakota Extension Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The camp taught pasture analysis procedures as well as grass and soil types. We brought our own soil survey maps and the camp personnel developed grazing and fencing plans for us. Jack had been an agriculture teacher and had started grass plots as several locations. He knew the benefits of plant diversity and adding legumes to the pasture mix.

In 2002 we fertilized the pasture with a commercial mix. it was a very dry year, so it was difficult to analyze the benefits of that expense but with the fertilization and rotation, our pastures stood up pretty well.

Our plan to distribute water through the cells didn’t work. We made the mistake of depending on a water source from a neighboring farmstead which was sold. The new owners were not interested in allowing us to use their water system. That was disappointing because we had purchased a tank and buried water line. However, a new pasture water policy through our rural water co-op is being formulated which may allow us hook up to rural water for the pasture system.

We broadcast birdsfoot trefoil and red clover into the pasture and realized good germination, especially of the birdsfoot trefoil. It is persisting and increasing even where it wasn’t broadcast. The red clover was not as persistent, but is still in the mix.

Because the legumes in our pastures are sensitive to chemicals, we limited our use of weed control with chemicals. In early spring we burned areas of the pasture to remove cattails and foxtails. We also mowed selectively. 2003 has brought above average moisture. The grass, thankfully, “got ahead” of the cattle, and we haven’t been able to control the foxtail with grazing as much as we would have liked.

- Kevin Sedivec, the state extension range specialist, designed a grazing system at range camp
- Brady Kelly, NRCS specialist for Ransom County, also advised about grass identification and grazing systems
- John Brager is a custom fencer with experience not only on other farms, but with his own rotational system. He supplied the posts, fencer, wire, insulators, etc. for the system and refined Kevin Sedivec’s plant developed at the range camp
- Jerrold Sundstrom, a local contractor, dug the “tough” postholes with a digger that had been owned by a rural electric company at one time.
- Lynn Wilson, a neighbor, helped with the fence installation and laying the water line.
- Duane Safer, a neighbor, sprayed where there were no legumes and assisted with water installation

Even though 2002 was very dry, we were able to maintain our herd number without renting more pasture. We saw an increase in native species such as bur clover, lead plant, silver leaf psorealas and green needle grass. We observed a decrease in June grass and weeds such as gum weed, Canadian thistle and wormwood. The major item we’d change is to secure our water source. Our water holes began to dry up by fall, so that would have been critical had winter not come and grazing ceased.

What we learned from this project is that rotational grazing really does work and that we will continue subdividing pastures in the south quarter this tract of land. This project just included the north quarter.

A disadvantage of this type of grazing is that the calves seem to get separated from the cows a little easier. They will go under the fence and the cows can’t come through to them.

We inquired about marketing our beef through the farmer’s market in Fargo and got a cool reception from the president, who sells produce and poultry. However, I did talk to the City Health Department and they were very positive about the idea. They said we’d need to have a freezer and told us where to get a power system for it and that they would be happy to inspect the whole system for it. We contacted some buffalo meat merchandisers who gave us good information for direct marketing. At this point, this aspect of our operation is on hold, due to time constraints.

We have invited area cattlemen to see our project casually, and the Fargo Forum did a story on it. We have gotten quite a few questions on the project as a result of the article, even from non-farmers interested in the aspect of improving wildlife habitat. We are inviting the Valley City Times-Record, our local paper, out to see how the project has progressed. Mikkel Pates, who wrote the article for the Forum, has moved to the Agweek newspaper and we are inviting him to do an update for his new publication.


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.