My two children and I ran beef cattle back grounding operation on 220 acres of owned ground and 60 acres of rented ground.
We tried to practice rotational grazing and supplemental feeding on pasture to get the most from a few aces. We have also no tilled wheat and oats into the pastures for the last 5 or 6 years to extend the grazing season.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The logic behind my goals for this project was:
1) If I could show a profit by grazing in the winter, hopefully I could get people to stop dozing out fences.
2) Protect the bare soybean ground with a growing cover crop
3) Create a source of low cost forage from fall to spring
4) Improve wild life habitat in the fence rows that were left
I knew that wheat could provide good fall through spring grazing but usually didn’t get big enough in the fall to graze, if planted after soybean harvest. Marion Gentry, the retired extension agent and I discussed how to get the wheat planted earlier in the fall. The idea of over seeding before leaf drop came up. If it would work it could gain 2-4 weeks in the fall’s warmest weather for maximum growth. My problems were: there were no local aerial crop dusters, would the seeds survive with just leaf cover and would it be cost effective. A local pilot, Billy Hovey, helped me find a crop duster in northern MO, who then sent me to JP Agricare in northern Ill. They told me they had tried this with success, except on very dry years. The summer and fall of 1999 were extremely dry, so we decided not to try it that year. Later JP told me that the crops they did fly on that year did not get a very good stand. Theory is, that during dry times, a little shower on the wheat that is on top of the ground, will cause the wheat to sprout and perish if it doesn’t get more rain soon.
We decided to wait a year for a more normal fall, if anyone knew what that was. The fall of 2000, we had good moisture in late summer and early fall. Iowa and northern Illinois had a problem with soybean aphids and the plane could not come until September 21. By this time, half or more of the leaves had already fallen. Another problem we had was that 90 acres that my son and I had been renting was sold and was no longer available to us. We did find 195 acres that my dad and brother rented, but most of it did not have fence. We ran electric fence, which added to the labor greatly. The deer and deer hunters ran into our fence on a regular basis.
We were able to turn out 44 calves on 100 acres divided into three fields. On 11-3-00, they weighed 427 lbs. at turn out and grazed 36 days and on 12-9-00 they weighed 472 with a gain of 44 lbs/head or 1.22 lbs/day.
Weather again became unusual as we had snow and extreme cold the entire month of December. It remained cold all winter and spring. Wheat didn’t break dormancy until April 1, 4-6 weeks late.
Extreme wet conditions in early April made the landlords unwilling to graze the wheat for fear of too much compaction. All 195 acres were kept for wheat because of unusual spring weather. The grazing part of the trial did not work out because of the extreme weather. The ground cover part worked better, because of the weather, but was harder to measure. We had several hard rains on frozen ground in January and February. Bare soybean fields washed badly. Wheat fields had small washes but were noticeably better than the unplanted fields.
The idea has advantages, but we need to be able to get the plan sooner in the fall. Another suggestion that came up at the Soils and Crop Conference was to sow rye instead of wheat and add winter legumes such as Austrian Peas or Hairy Vetch.
I would be willing to try this again if the land is available. I am trying to get some more producers to try this also. I think we would have a better chance of getting the plane earlier if we had more acres.
The main outreach was at the local Soils and Crop Conference attended by about 100 people and then it was featured on the front page of the local paper that covered the conference. I work at a local sale barn and the project has created a lot of interest there. One of my neighbors tried grazing calves partly because of the project and he is planning on doing it again.