Families Growing Our Food: Managed Grazing Includes Best Land Use

Husker Home Place

Don Peregrine has been recognized as a pioneer of grazing management.

Published on: September 27, 2013

Curt’s Comments:  Riding around in Don Peregrine’s pickup through his pastures near Fullerton, you can hear Don’s love of the land, and his understanding about how different types of land need to be handled differently. On his farm, he has low land along a river and upland Sandhills pastures. He knows that these unique properties need to be grazed in customized ways to get the most from land, but also to protect it.

Here is his story…

A “grazing philosophy” requires flexibility, creativity and a close watch on the bottom line. Don Peregrine of Fullerton has been practicing this philosophy for years, and he continues to tweak his rotational grazing model to fit the situation.

CAREFUL MANAGEMENT
CAREFUL MANAGEMENT

Peregrine typically grazes two herds with 90 head each of Braunvieh-Angus cross cows. His pastures consist of rolling, upland Sandhills land dominated by native grasses like little and big bluestem and Indian grass, and a wetter, lowland pasture along the Loup River, which consists of predominantly cool season grasses like bluegrass and orchard grass, and sandier areas with shorter native prairie grasses.

Each pasture requires unique grazing design and watering systems, Peregrine says. On one section of upland Sandhills pasture, Peregine set up a “wagon wheel” design, with the water source at the center of the wheel and small paddocks going out from the water, like spokes in the wheel.

“I wanted my central watering unit in a corral and I needed to have access to that water,” Peregrine says. “I chose the wagon wheel design because of the simplicity.” He says that the design was easy and inexpensive to set up. But there are challenges.

“There is a traffic zone close to the water where grass is grazed heaviest, while the far outer reaches don’t get grazed,” says Peregrine. “The design takes more management. I try to have higher stock density and then graze it for a shorter period to help with grazing utilization.”

There are eight paddocks in the wagon wheel, which are only seven acres each. “I might only pasture that twice a summer” depending on moisture and grass regrowth, he says.

His other rolling pasture is divided into 40 acre paddocks over a quarter section. Water has been piped into the land through an Environmental Quality Incentive Program cost-share project. Peregrine also has irrigation wells on two sides of the pasture, so he can use those sources to water three of the paddocks. “Having water on the edges of the paddocks is not ideal,” he says. It works though, for his situation.

The Loup River pasture is probably the most challenging to graze, he says. “I made a perimeter fence along the border to make it square, and to make 40 acre paddocks,” Peregrine says. “On the outer edges on the other side of the river, I made paddocks ranging from ten acres to 50 acres, but they are irregular in shape” because of the winding river.

“There is no electricity and it would have cost plenty to get it there, so I placed a windmill in the middle of the pasture with a 1000 gallon storage tank, which is filled by the windmill,” he says. “Water flows to the tanks with gravity, because the system was built with enough head to get to the paddocks.” Lower fields along the river are subirrigated, with springfed watering areas. The fencer on the river land is battery powered. 

“The number one thing brought to my attention by grazing experts is that the only free ride for farmers is photosynthesis,” Peregrine says. “We need to capture as much sunshine as we can.” Because of this mission, Peregrine also interseeds rye into his corn and soybean row crops in late summer, to provide winter and early spring grazing for his cattle after harvest, and to capture the sunlight through growing cover crops.

“I’m taking advantage of that with my cover crops,” Peregrine says. “If you have bare ground, you’re not catching sunlight.”

If you like this story or learned something you didn’t know by reading it, please pass it on to your urban friends who are interested in farmers and food production. Be sure to watch the first Friday of every month at Husker Home Place for more stories about the real families growing our food.