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Mark Kruse loves his grazing system

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 07/14/2011 12:06 PM

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LANSING, Iowa —Mark and Marcia Kruse's rotational grazing system runs along their ridge top farm straight south from the barn. On a clear day, they can see the Mississippi River and Wisconsin beyond.

Mark runs high tensile wire, spring-loaded on one end, on both sides of a lane about a half mile with no breaks. The waterline follows the lane. He divides the pasture into 24 paddocks, approximately two acres each. The first two paddocks on each side of the lane are for dry cows and heifers, which he likes to keep close to the barn.

Mark raises hay, corn and small grains for winter feed on about 400 acres of tillable ground. He rents about 300 acres. Heifers are pastured on the rented farms.

Mark moves his cows to a fresh paddock each day. Using a PVC pipe on a pitch fork, he props the fence up to let the cows into the paddocks.

"I spend about one minute switching paddocks," Mark said. "Maintenance is pretty slick."

Mark said he doesn't do muchpasture clipping other than for thistle control. He finds that over the summer, the cows eat the mature grass.

Even during dry weather, there is always something for the cows to eat by the time they return to a paddock.

"And they're satisfied with it," he said.

He feeds 10 to 11 pounds of grain and 10 pounds of silage, and the cows get the rest of their feed from pastures. He feeds silage and corn in the bunk, and then the cows head out to pasture. The grain mix consists of oats, soy hulls, shell corn, kelp, diatomaceous earth, a vitamin pack from Nelson Dairy Consultants, Dical, calcium and Redmond salts.

Mark milks in a double-four herringbone parlor.

"My parlor is old," he said. "I bought it used in 1982. I'm thinking of replacing it, but I haven't got around to it yet."

He applies manure to the pastures in late fall. His sand-bedded free-stall barn has a two-stage manure system, which LuAnn Rolling, district conservationist with the NRCS in Allamakee County, helped design.

He uses a Bobcat to push the manure from the free-stall barn to the first pit where the solids are settled out before the manure flows into the second pit. What he hauls out of the second pit is almost like water.

Herd health is good, Mark said. The cows spend the winter in the free-stall barn, and any feet problems that develop improve when the cows return to grass in mid-April.

The Kruses' 80 cows are Holsteins, Holstein-Ayrshire crosses and Jerseys. Their Ayrshire bulls came from Art Thicke at LeCrescent, Minn.

"I love this setup," Mark said of his grazing system. "The cows live all summer on 56 acres. I have 400 acres of tilled ground to gather grain and hay for the other seven months of the year."

Mark admits he cringed when he first looked at the new organic pasture regulations, but said Organic Valley directed him to an online spreadsheet where he can easily document that he is following the rules.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program cost-shared on fencing, water lines, seeding and the hard surface lane. NRCS also helped with the manure system and diversions.

"I really appreciate what the NRCS has done for me," Mark said. "I can't say enough about the NRCS."

NRCS officials urge farmers interested in using EQIP for organic conversion, grazing, manure systems or other conservation practices to contact the office in their county. Low-interest loans available from the state for some practices.