For the past couple of years we have been in the process of changing our home cropland to livestock production and management. It’s something I have wanted to do ever since I bought the farm more than 30 years ago. A few years ago we were able to sign a contract with the Natural Resources Conservation Service or NRCS to implement an Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP plan to fence our fields and install a watering system.
The process has taken a long time. In addition to the NTCS we have worked with our neighbors the Wolfingers who have cattle on a farm that adjoins ours. The Wolfingers were interested in renting more pasture for their herd. So it worked out for both parties. The first step was fencing a pair of small pastures that adjoins their land. Since no water is available in these pastures the gates are left open so the cattle can move back and forth. The 5-acre fields are mob grazed until the pasture is clipped and then the gates are closed.
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To graze our 30 acres of bottomland we had to run a waterline from the pond beside our back pasture to the front fields. The fields have been in a corn and soybean and sometimes wheat rotation for most of the years we have owned it. Once the water was available, we had to fence all the pastures. Along the road the EQIP contract required a woven fence and along the tree line it called for a six-strand high tensile fence. The whole thing is topped with a single strand of electric wire. We hired our neighbor Calvin Hanes to do the fence work. He did a very good job.
Two Augusts ago Robert Wolfinger reseeded the small pastures with a mix of red clover and pasture fescue. He also limed and fertilized the fields. In the fall the fescue took off following the lines of the drill. The following spring the red clover came on strong. Last August he did the same with the front fields.
The first cows were turned into the small upper pastures late last summer. The herd of some 50 cows and their calves made quick work of the small pastures. Despite the dry conditions the fields were lush and the cattle were appreciative.
The front fields still needed to be furnished with water and we installed a pair of concrete-filled tractor tires to do the job. After some concern about the line feeding the waters from the ponds we managed to get the floats operating and stone pad around the tires to make for a watering hole with around 400 gallon capacity.
An electric charger from the barn makes sure everyone stays inside the field.
A week ago we finally turned the herd into the front fields. I thought it sounded like a lot of animals for 30 acres, but they are chewing constantly and not nearly keeping up with the spring flush.
It’s taken a long time, but it’s rewarding to see the black cows and calves against the fresh green grass. My hope is it will also give the land some needed rest and improve the quality of the soil.