Management-intensive Grazing Systems as an Alternative to Crop Production on Saline/Alkali Soils in the Central Platte Valley

Final Report for FNC99-263

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
We operate approximately 2000 acres as a farm partnership with out oldest son and his wife and our middle son. We have about 1600 acres of high quality alfalfa and 400 acres of corn. We also have a custom hay business of about 200 acres. We have a small feedlot where we grow claves like the calves intended for this project. We have about 600 calves on 125 day contract twice a year. We have been progressive in trying new technology including surge valves and low pressure pivot conversions. We have an agronomist to scout the corn ground and try to minimize chemical use.

We did not carry out any sustainable practices before receiving this grant.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of this project was to establish permanent vegetation on saline alkali ground and use it in conjunction with an intensive grazing system. Ground of this type has not been profitable under conventional tillage and cropping systems. An intensive grazing system with alkali tolerant grasses would provide an economical and ecological solution to this land management problem.

Process:
The following is a chronological sequence to the establishment of our project and the logic behind those choices.

We planned on paper and established goals. The planning included deciding on paddock size and placement. We could change paddock size much easier on paper than when the fences were built.

We planted the grass. The grass was planted on Labor Day weekend of 1999. The grasses were carefully chosen after extensive research involving NRCS, UNL and seed dealers. It was my personal feeling that fall grass planting is the best. As we observe when “Mother Nature” plants it is in the fall. We also thought this would give us the most promising chance for early spring grazing.

We installed the underground pipeline and tanks and built the fences. We used a 2 wire electric fence with fiberglass fence posts.

We chose the animals that would be grazing. We began with 300 stockers, 292 ewes and one llama. Then we began adjusting. We added calves until we have about 512 stockers and the 292 ewes.

I think the most important thing we learned is that it is a constant learning experience and mistakes will be made. The important this is to learn from those mistakes, solve them as best you can and move on. We cannot dwell on the problems and worry about them. And one thing is certain, new mistakes are waiting to surface! As Brian said, this project is not for the “faint at heart”!

People: Many people have helped to make this project a reality, they are greatly appreciated!
– Sustainable Ag Research and Education (SARE)
– Natural Resources Conservation Srevice (NRCS) – EQIP contract for cost share and technical assistance
– Central Platte NRD – cost share assistance and field day meal
– South Central RC&D – assistance with grant writing
– UN Cooperative Extension – assistance with field day and grass selections
– Morman Feeds, Steve Berger – mineral feeder, mineral and field day meal
– Larry Wells – GPS
– Wenzel Construction – rubber tire tank
– Mike Anderson –technical assistance with electric fence construction
– Benson Enterprises – tank float
– Purina Feed, Howard Gafney – mineral feeder, mineral and pop for field day
– Platte Valley Pheasants Forever – use of grass drill
– Prairie States Forage – technical assistance with grass seed and field day meal
– First National Bank Kearney –assistance with field day meal
– United Nebraska Bank, Lexington – assistance with field day meal
– Jeff Purintun – grill and cooking steaks
– Gary and Mary White – llama
– Lexington NRCS staff, Darrell Bliven and Pat Oakes – help in organizing and setup of tour
– Dan Jensen – help in innumerable ways

Results:
We were somewhat disappointed with the gains of the cattle. Our gains were 1.7#/day during the spring grazing and 0.7#/day with the fall grazing. We were able to meet our payment and taxes and still have a small profit, however we plan to analyze the manure next year to determine what adaptation should be made to improve gains. The grass established well and provided exceptional forage except during the heat of the summer, approximately 6-8 weeks.

Discussion:
We learned that the dormant season was longer than we expected. We harvested about half of the paddocks for hay in order to remove the seed heads of bolted grass. This we feel was a mistake as the re-growth on these paddocks was significantly reduced compared to the unhayed paddocks. This could have been because of shading of the grass by the taller more mature grasses. I also do not think I would plant the wheat grasses in the mix. They are not as palatable, because of this, the more palatable grasses get overgrazed and the wheat grasses bolt to seed heads. We believe this is a very good way to utilize this type of ground and we like the intensive grazing system. We will probably change our rent agreement to be a certain amount per head to graze for a month rather than based on the gain. We will also not have the sheep. Even though the sheep did provide a valuable alternative to spraying weeds with a herbicide. There were numerous problems with the sheep including keeping them in, predator control and overgrazing the legume element of the mix. Even with the problems we are considering developing other land to this same use.

OUTREACH
We had a tour in July 2000. This was attended by approximately 125 people. We advertised on KRVN radio, in the local newspapers, by private mailings. We were interviewed by the “Hay and Forage” magazine and the article was picked up and published by “Beef” magazine. I also gave a power point presentation at a Central Platte NRD board meeting. Since the articles and tour, we have had an average of 1-2 telephone calls per week inquiring our pasture. In addition to these calls, the Buffalo County NRCS 22 has had an average of 2-4 calls per month inquiring about irrigated grass.

Research

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.