Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Breitkreutz family sees pasture improvement through rotational grazing

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 05/28/2013 8:20 AM

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REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. —When Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz got their first EQIP contract, the Redwood Falls cattle producers were told their native pasture had three species of grasses and no forbs or clovers.

A few years later, in 2010, the pasture had 16 grass species, plus clover.

The pasture improvements weren't because of fertilizers or herbicides. They quit fertilizing five years ago and haven't sprayed it for four years, Grant said. They credit overall pasture management for their success.

They will discuss the successes and challenges of pasture management and cover corps at a workshop on their farm May 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The workshop starts with grazing specialist Howard Moechnig covering the principles of grazing management including grass and legume species for reseeding or establishing new pasture, paddock location and size, watering options, lanes and forage management.

The Breuitkreutzs will lead an afternoon pasture walk through their rotational and intense rotational grazing systems and discuss what's worked and the challenges of building and maintaining a good grazing system.

Grant is the fourth generation to operate the livestock farm.

"When we ran 58 cows in the pastures, we were feeding hay by September," Grant said. "Compare that to this past year, when in a drought year, we still had green grass going into the fall. The only places that were challenges were the sandy spots. It's due to the rotational grazing."

He said rebuilding native grasses and pastures takes time. It can be a three- to four-year process.

Cattle play an important role in that management. With their hooves, the animals trample weeds and move grass seed into the soil and, by grazing, they jerk the roots of the grasses, rejuvenating the plants and plant growth.

The Breitkreutz's herd is made up of 160 cow/calf pairs of mostly black Angus with some red Angus plus six bulls. The stock is owned by Grant, Dawn, Grant's brother and his wife, Seth and Kelly and cousin Dave.

Madison Livestock in South Dakota receives most of their market animals. They also direct market some calves.

It's a diversified operation centered around the cattle industry. Seth, Kelly, Dawn and Grant own a baling business and Grant and Dawn have a custom high tensile fencing operation. Three area farmers help them with the workload.

Grant and Dawn manage the farm's 550 to 600 acres of pasture and raise 300 acres of crops. They are entering the fourth year of grazing cattle on Department of Natural Resources wildlife management land. They work with DNR staff to manage the wildlife area.

They've managed the grazing on the DNR land the same way they would on their pastures. The land is given 45 days of rest after cattle have been on it. More diversity of wildlife is seen in the DNR management area. Even in their own pastures, after cattle will graze, pheasants and then turkeys will follow.

The cattle are outdoors year-round. Trees and the natural landscape of the Minnesota River Valley offers livestock shelter. Cattle are fed corn silage and the winter-cover crop triticale. Over the winter, corn stalks, wheat straw and pea vines are fed. The cattle are fed on the paddocks during winter.

"We'd rather haul feed than haul manure," Grant said.

They've used EQIP funds to install all season waterers in the paddocks.

Their 14-year-old daughter Karlie plans to take over the farm one day. She's learning about pasture management from her parents and from the seminars and workshops.

"At the end of all this, we want something we can pass on to the future generation," Dawn said. "We want to pass on something they will be proud of."

The May 18 field day is sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings program. Register by May 16 by calling Richard Ness at (320) 269-2105 or by e-mailing rness@landstewardshipproject.org.

Attendees are asked to bring a sack lunch and beverages and appropriate clothing for walking.