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Kolousek Family Shares How Soil Health Extends Grazing Season and Keeps Soil from Blowing

If you take care of the soil, it will take care of you, explained fourth-generation Wessington Springs farmer, Dick Kolousek.

“The more we can do to keep the soil productive, the more the soil will produce – even in dry years,” Dick said during a Soil Health Tour held on his family farm and hosted by South Dakota Farmers Union and South Dakota Soil Health Coalition.

Dick raises crops and cattle together with his son, Scott. Scott said although soil health has always been something he and Dick considered – the farm has been no-till for more than 20 years – the men really began focusing on soil building practices about 15 years ago. That’s when they got serious and began:

• Introducing cover crops into their corn and small grain rotation

• Revitalizing dung beetle populations by doing away with pour-on fly insecticide funded partially through Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Programs

• Intensifying grazing rotations by installing more fencing and water tanks funded partially through Environmental Quality Incentive Program

A rainfall simulator showed farmers and ranchers how soil health improves water infiltration and prevents run off during the soil health tour held on the Kolousek family farm near Wessington Springs. Austin Carlson, SDSHC soil health technician (left) and Stan Boltz, NRCS Regional Soil Health Specialist explain the results and answer attendee questions. SDFU
Courtesy photo

Scott said the results can be seen throughout their farm – starting with an increase in organic matter. The organic matter is more than six percent in fields across the farm. “Increased organic matter means we do not need to apply as much fertilizer on our crop acres – and that saves us money.”

Another cost savings is reduced feed costs. “When I was a kid, we started feeding hay around Thanksgiving,” Scott said. “This last winter our cows were out grazing until the first of February – now granted there wasn’t any snow on the ground. But even with snow on the ground, the cows will dig under the snow to get to grass.”

The Kolouseks typically plant a diverse cover crop mix into wheat stubble mid-July. And it’s ready and waiting when they turn their cows out on it after weaning around the first part of November. “Compared to grazing on corn stalks, the cows really thrive on cover crops,” Scott said.

During the tour, attendees were bussed to pastures and had the opportunity to walk through crop fields so they could see the grazing and cover crop rotations firsthand.

Providing an opportunity for farmers to see for themselves how soil health practices work, is the reason South Dakota Soil Health Coalition (SDSHC) asked to host a tour on the Kolousek’s farm.

Three years after Rodney Huisman (far left) replaced continuous grazing with rotational grazing of his cattle, the NRCS conservationist for Jerauld County saw an increase of 1,000 pounds of grass per acre. During the soil health tour, attendees were bussed to fields to learn about the Kolousek family's rotational grazing plan. SDFU
Courtesy photo

“Farmers and ranchers are key to improving soil health in South Dakota. Field tours give them the opportunity to see firsthand the successes and failures of others and take back something to make their operation more sustainable,” explained Cindy Zenk, SDSHC Coordinator.

When Zenk called the Kolouseks to ask if SDSHC could host a tour on their land, Scott said the timing was perfect.

“It was April and the wind was blowing the dirt around – but on our fields, no soil moved. I want to stress to keep soil from blowing it needs to be covered. Cover crops help do that,” Scott explained.

The tour began with a rainfall simulator demonstration to help explain the science behind cover crops’ ability to hold soil as well as moisture.

“A raindrop hits the ground at about 15 to 20 miles per hour,” explained Austin Carlson, SDSHC soil health technician. “When you have a growing cover crop covering the soil, the plants break the impact of these raindrops preventing them from displacing soil particles. Also, the more times we have something actively growing in the soil, the biology of the soil helps bind soil particles together, basically weather proofing it.”

Carlson added that in a healthy grazing system, healthy, strong root systems aid in water infiltration.

Practices to build a healthy grazing system were the focus of many tour discussions. Three years after Rodney Huisman replaced continuous grazing with rotational grazing of his cattle, the NRCS conservationist for Jerauld County saw an increase of 1,000 pounds of grass per acre.

“NRCS standard is take half, leave half. This way the plant leaf can act like a solar panel to take in energy from the sun through photosynthesis and regenerate itself,” Huisman said. “It’s not about the days of grazing. It’s about the days of rest. Healthy plants equal healthy soil.”

Forestburg cattle producer, Joseph Davis agrees. He and his dad, Jack, also implement rotational grazing practices and have seen the benefits. Davis said he attended the soil health tour for the opportunity to gain additional tips to help him fine-tune their existing practices.

“I appreciate organizations hosting tours like this because it gives me and other producers a chance to pick up some new practices and learn from experts and learn from producers how they implement different practices into their system,” Davis said.

Providing South Dakota farmers and ranchers with educational opportunities is a focus of South Dakota Farmers Union and among the reasons the organization partnered with SDSHC to sponsor the tour, explained Karla Hofhenke, executive director of South Dakota Farmers Union.

“Making educational opportunities accessible is one of many ways we work to support our state’s family farmers and ranchers,” Hofhenke said. “We know farmers and ranchers don’t have any time to spare, so we look for quality opportunities, like this soil health tour, to provide them with information to make their time off the farm or ranch worthwhile.”

To learn more about educational opportunities provided to South Dakota farm and ranch families, and to watch a video of the rainfall simulator demonstration, visit www.sdfu.org and click on this article in the news release link under the News and Events tab.

Scott and Dick Kolousek raise crops and cattle near Wessington Springs. The farmers have focused on soil health for more than a decade. They recently hosted a soil health tour on their farm. SDFU
Courtesy photo

–South Dakota Farmers Union

Drought-proof your ranch: Manage for Plant, Animal and Ranch Diversity

As ranchers learn adaptive grazing, a new appreciation of plant species diversity, no bare ground and soil health accelerate. And they understand that the process isn’t as difficult as they initially thought to begin achieving quicker recovery from drought.

Early on, West River rancher Robert Boylan realized that adaptive grazing practices on his heavy gumbo soils would not include small paddocks and high-density livestock. “There’s no doubt rotational grazing is the best system, and what we’ve discovered is grazing our cattle and sheep on 1,000 to 2,400-acre pasture size works best for us, followed hopefully by 12 months rest,” he says.

Working with nature on this Butte County ranch near Newell has gradually improved Boylan’s pastures that were abused and mismanaged when he bought the ranch a decade ago. Instead of the old overgrazing without rotating practice, Boylan adapts herd size and pasture rotation timing using the ‘take half-leave half’ grazing strategy to improve the land.

Plant diversity

“The most significant changes I’ve seen in forage diversity have resulted from managing the grass, resting and rotating, which allows nature to heal and bring back some warm-season native grasses,” Boylan says. “All my plant species seem to be coming back in full after two years of drought.”

Boylan likens his pasture improvement to a natural system of buffalo roaming and grazing in big mobs, allowing the grass to rest behind them. “They also broke the grass up and pushed it into the ground when it was soft, adding nutrients and microorganisms to the soil,” he says.

Other adaptive grazing practices paying dividends are water distribution and bringing biology back to the 15 miles of riparian areas along three creeks that run through Boylan Ranch. Over the last decade, Boylan has worked with NRCS to design and install 60 miles of pipeline to 60 tanks. He collects rainfall and runoff water in 130 reservoirs he has built, aimed to bring plants and wildlife to the creeks that are primarily dry except in wet years like 2019.

“Adding water and more rest for pastures has made a huge difference, as we have fewer cow trails, and the old grass infiltrates more water into the soil profile,” he says.

To diversify his water source, Boylan has partnered with six ranching neighbors, working with The Nature Conservancy, to drill a well. “It will be a dream come true for all of our ranches and will benefit everything from the wildlife to our livestock and profitability.”

“There’s no doubt rotational grazing is the best system, and what we’ve discovered is grazing our cattle and sheep on 1,000 to 2,400-acre pasture size works best for us, followed hopefully by 12 months rest,” Robert Boylan said.

Animal and wildlife diversity

Boylan likes his diversity of sheep and cattle grazing, running between 1,000 to 1,600 sheep and 800 to 1,400 cows, depending on grass availability and economics. “I like the differences in hoof action, how they eat and fertilize differently, and how sheep improve the slopes and edges of our dams, so I try to graze them first.”

He’s also experimenting with native grass seeding using his sheep. “I’m in a program to test whether sheep hoof traffic can push previously broadcasted seed into bare ground areas to grow grass and cut erosion.”

To diversify his water source, Boylan has partnered with six ranching neighbors, working with The Nature Conservancy, to drill a well.

As Boylan rests pastures for as long as economically feasible, he sees wildlife diversity benefits. More birds, whitetail deer, antelope, mule deer—they’re all moving back in because there’s more water and protein, which is so good to see,” he says. “The more I can rest a pasture, the better the grass and the more cows we can run with less work.”

Mitch Faulkner, NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist who works with Boylan, is impressed by his continual efforts to improve the ranch. “Robert has worked diligently to improve infrastructure and grazing management. Now he’s focused on other resource concerns like livestock distribution, upland improvement, and riparian structures—always trying new things to increase resource potential,” Faulkner says.

Diverse options for healthy rangeland

While up to 12 months of rest works well for Boylan and other ranchers, some ranchers find splitting up rest periods works to optimize plant health, water infiltration and increase organic soil nitrogen. For example, White River sheep and cattle rancher and 30-year career NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist Lealand Schoon is a big believer and user of Lee Manske’s decades-old twice-over rotation system.

Research since the 1970s by range scientist Manske at the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center has focused on restoring degraded grasslands using biology and physiology. By maximizing photosynthesis and stimulating plants to feed the rhizosphere organisms, this practice can achieve increased organic mineralized nitrogen for long-term above and below-ground benefits.

“Nitrogen is the major growth-limiting factor in northern plains rangeland. So, once we understand soil biology and work with nature to achieve more diverse healthy plants and roots, then more nitrogen becomes available over time,” Schoon says. “By soil sampling we can see that the soil achieves 100 pounds per acre of organic mineralized nitrogen in about 10 years, while upgrading the total biomass production and diversity in a grassland ecosystem.”

Schoon explains the biologically effective twice-over rotation system in four main points: stimulate, growth, harvest, and recover. It begins with a proper stocking rate on a minimum of three and a maximum of six contiguous native grass pastures. Then, each pasture gets lightly grazed during this stimulate phase for 7 to 17 days to achieve a 30% defoliation between June 1 and July 15 (45-day interval).

This light graze stimulates soil biology, adds 5 to 8 more tillers per plant and continues root growth that usually stops if 50% of the plant is removed. The goal is to ignore cool-season invader grasses and not graze until native species grasses have 3-1/2 leaves—to increase, rather than halt warm-season grass and forbs growth.

Lealand Schoon shows importance of root and soil texture. Kurt Lawton
Courtesy photo
Lealand Schoon shows the importance of a healthy rhizosphere. Kurt Lawton
Courtesy photo

Following this resting growth phase is the harvest phase, a 90-day grazing interval from mid-July to mid-October. Each pasture is grazed for twice the number of days as the first grazing period, leaving 50% of the native grass foliage. The remaining tillers store carbohydrates and nutrients to continue plant mechanisms over winter, which resume growth in spring.

“The dormant season is the recovery period where you have an active, deeper and more dense root system. And these roots are more diverse, feeding many different soil organisms throughout the year,” Schoon says. “This grazing strategy focuses on rangeland soil health, less infrastructure, easier implementation and resiliency against drought. When the rangeland soil is healthy, it can reduce the symptoms associated with drought to about two years out of 40.”

Ranch income diversity

The final important piece of diversity to many ranchers is a diverse income stream. “I don’t know of a profitable ranch right now that doesn’t have a working wife with insurance or some kind of outside income,” Boylan says. “My summer wages the last two years have been waterline trenching for people and occasional fence building.”

The Boylans also built a successful wedding venue on their ranch, and a bar that gains traffic from motorcyclists attending the Sturgis rally every year. “We’ve also invested in our small town of Newell, including part ownership of the grocery store and some rental homes. All these efforts help keep the ranch going as we hope to pass it down to our kids someday,” Boylan adds.

To learn more about how diversity can help drought-proof your ranch, South Dakota offers an innovative look at ranchers across the state who describe their improvement journeys in the NRCS-South Dakota video series ‘Our Amazing Grasslands.’ In addition, the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition has compiled a list of rancher mentors by topic. And the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition has a list of farmer and rancher mentors.

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 of this series.


This is part three of a six-part series of articles that showcase how a growing number of ranchers have moved away from season-long grazing in a few pastures to a more adaptive and productive grazing system. Understanding the steps in their journey–– along with grassland specialists’ recommendations––can put you on the path to a less stressful, more profitable operation.


Cull Cow Management and Marketing Opportunities

Each year, cow-calf producers have a percentage of cows that are culled from the herd for various reasons. They may have been open at pregnancy check time, lost a calf, have reached a normal culling age, or faced drought conditions that forced an earlier or increased culling rate. No matter the reason for culling, it is important to evaluate the opportunity to add value to these females at marketing, as they can equate to 15-30% of the annual ranch income.

Considering the normal price cycle for cull cows, the seasonal low typically occurs in November as a result of increased numbers of spring-calving cows flooding the market following weaning and pregnancy check. The seasonal high typically occurs in July, but increases are also seen in early spring (April-May), providing the opportunity to market the cows during a different time point and capture additional value by feeding these cows for a period of 30 to 90 days after weaning.

Costs and Benefits of Feeding

There are both costs and benefits associated with feeding cows, and it is important to evaluate your individual situation to determine whether it is feasible for your operation. Some of the questions to consideration are: Do I have the pen or pasture space to manage these cows? What feed resources can I allocate to this group? Will feeding equipment be available? Do I have the time and labor resources to feed this group of cattle? Those are just a few things to think about. The potential benefits of feeding cows include three main factors: additional weight gain, which can translate into more pounds to sell; improved body condition score (BCS) and slaughter grade, which would add value; and seasonal price increase coupled with the other two factors, which could further increase value.

Weigh your options with your cull cows. Canva photo

Additional weight gain will vary based on multiple factors, specifically what condition the cows are in at the beginning of the feeding phase. Take time to evaluate each animal and determine whether they are healthy, with sound feet and legs, and in good condition. If they are not healthy, it is better to sell her rather than risk her dying during the feeding phase. Only healthy cows should be fed. Cows in a BCS of <6 will gain more weight faster than their more-heavily conditioned counterparts at BCS 7 or 8. The type of diet these cows are fed will also play a role in how fast they gain condition and will influence cost.

–SDSU Extension

Temporary Fencing Options: Options for Utilizing New Forage Resources

While producers are looking at all available options for fall and winter feed for their livestock, they have many considerations going into the colder seasons. Since hay supplies are short, fall forage could include land coming out of CRP contracts, crop residues, cover crops or cornstalks, and these may be located in fields that are not typically grazed and lack fences.

There are many factors to consider before constructing a new fence. What materials are readily available? What will be both cost effective and effectively keep the livestock contained? What type of natural obstacles to fence construction are present? What kind of fencing are your cattle familiar with and respectful of? Will this be a one season use fence, or will it be used longer term in your operation? What other factors outside of the new grazing area pose concerns, such as highways with traffic, neighboring crops or livestock and wildlife issues?

Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist says that while there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that works in every situation, livestock producers can pick and choose from a plethora of options to come up with the right fence for their needs.

“Match your resources to the type of livestock you need to contain and consider the short and long term purpose for the grazing area,” he said. “Slow moving, older cows that are trained to respect a hot wire can usually be kept in with a single poly or electric wire. If they still have calves at side you may have to pay a little more attention to them. You’ll want to consider the location: are there roadways, standing crops, anything the animals are used to eating nearby? The higher degree of risk involved, such as a field that is right along the highway, the better the fence you will want to put up.”

Making do with what is available is often a good place to start. If the new grazing area has been fenced in the past, it is likely that old posts can be re-utilized, even if the old wire is unfit for use. In some situations, an old fence can be fixed up and an electric wire added for extra help. Ruth Wiechmann
for Tri-State Livestock News

Bauman said that it’s important to make sure the livestock have plenty of available feed so that they are not putting pressure on the fence.

“The higher the strand count of your polywire, the better conductor it will be,” he said. “Some suppliers are now offering a braided aluminum cable that’s kind of in between poly wire and hard wire; it gives great shock absorption. It’s also good to consider your available manpower and ability to manage your resources before choosing a type of fencing. Can you roll up the wire easily when you’re finished utilizing the field? You should also take into consideration what your long term game plan is: if you’ll be returning to this field in future years to utilize crop aftermath or graze cover crops, it may well be worth investing a little more in the fence.”

Bauman suggested that intentional grazing practices, such as strip grazing, can be a double bonus if there is sufficient manpower available.

“If you only give the cattle access to part of a larger field at a time you will maintain a higher level of quality forage for a longer period of time, and they will be less likely to push the fence,” he said.

Dale Paulson ranches in the Wessington, South Dakota area, and has done extensive cross fencing on his place over the years, using temporary fences to focus grazing pressure in certain areas. He’s also fenced some cropland for grazing over the years, so he has had opportunity to find out what works for his cattle.

“When we moved onto the place we frantically put in single hot wire fences until we could get permanent fence built,” he said. “A friend who had a fencing business gave us several rolls of used telephone wire, and that worked well. Right now I’m pretty strong on using steel high tensile 12.5 gauge wire, but if I didn’t have steel wire, aluminum wire is really handy, easy to handle and a good conductor. I’ve recommended it to other ranchers and helped put it up.”

Paulson said that while his cattle are trained to respect a hot wire, they can also be too smart for their own good at times and will occasionally push the limits.

Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist, advises matching available resources to the type of livestock you need to keep contained, and considering risk factors such as nearby highway traffic or fields with standing crops before choosing a type of fencing materials. Rachel Gabel
The Fence Post

“I’ve seen them bunch up in the end of a pasture and start riding one another until one pushed another through the fence,” he said. “For all of our cornstalk grazing we have used barbed wire fence. This year we planted some fields to season-long cover crops and used fiberglass posts with poly wire for temporary fence to control grazing access. We use fiberglass sucker rod virtually exclusively for temporary fence posts, with a few step in posts for going around hills. We’ve tried used steel posts, but the T post insulators didn’t last; they were not strong enough to hold up long term.”

Paulson also said that it’s easier to make the mistake of keeping cattle in one place too long than moving them too soon; livestock looking for feed will be more likely to challenge a fence than if they have sufficient forage to browse.

Rick Doud, who ranches near Midland South Dakota, says that he grazed all of his hayfields this summer.

“In a year like this it takes all you’ve got to keep water and grass in front of the cattle,” he said.

Doud has used a single poly wire for temporary fence quite a bit.

“It works well until they get out,” he chuckled. “Electric fence doesn’t work as well in the winter either.”

Producers should consider whether they can risk dealing with occasional escapes or if risk factors such as traffic or neighboring livestock would make an investment in a more durable fence worthwhile.

Water sources or the lack thereof can be an additional challenge when sourcing forage in areas not traditionally grazed. Old dugouts or sloughs might be dry, or if there is water present, it may not be good enough quality for livestock to drink. Producers have more options available while temperatures remain above freezing than during winter weather. Both Doud and Paulson have used 1-1 ¼” black plastic pipe above ground to get water to areas without existing water sources.

“We have pipe laying on the ground all over,” Doud said. “It’s a challenge and a chore to drag it around from place to place. We’re burying more all the time. We are also using some ‘chicken waterers’ now: 2300 gallon plastic tanks with a trough around the bottom that have skid plates built in so that you can pick them up with pallet forks. We’re fortunate that we’ve never had to haul water in cold weather.”

“Don’t let your cows run out of water,” Paulson cautioned. “We had that happen and they got pretty screwy, almost psychotic; they don’t forget. I do not believe that cattle can get sufficient water from eating snow alone.”

While water needs may be far lower in the winter months than the hot summer months, clean fresh water is still vital.

“Cows will eat some snow, if there is snow,” Lyle Perman said, “But fresh water is always the best. It doesn’t take long to figure out how much your cattle need to drink in one day. When you need to haul water, you can either sit there and wait until they’re done drinking or come back later to drain the extra water out of the tank so it doesn’t freeze solid. If you start supplementing them with hay their water needs will increase.”

The Lowry, South Dakota rancher has seen plenty of variations on the temporary fence theme, including some folks using strategically parked field equipment parked for fence corners.

“Sometimes we use polywire, usually a heavier gauge with multiple strands; sometimes we run two hi-tensile wires, one hot and one ground,” he said. “You don’t have to use new wire, you can reuse old telegraph or telephone wire. Step in posts work well for line posts, and sometimes steel posts are sufficient for corners. In frozen ground, we use a cordless drill to make holes for the posts if we can’t step them in. Don’t go cheap on your energizer; check the battery for your fencer more frequently as they won’t hold a charge as long in the winter, and if you’re using a solar fencer it will need to be more powerful than what you could use in the summer.”

Both Perman and Bauman advised getting the fence in place and the fencer turned on a few days prior to turning cattle in so that deer and other wildlife can figure out that it’s there. Wildlife can also be a factor in the choice of fencing materials used.

“There are a lot of factors to take into account,” Bauman said. “Each situation is so different. Take time to get familiar with the lay of the land and how that will affect livestock movement. Communicate with your neighbors ahead of time. Think about gate placement and how you plan to move the livestock in and out of the field. Turning the cattle in is the easy part, the hard part is getting everything ready. There is a lot of management to consider beyond the actual fencing.”

Regardless of the choice of fencing materials, producers should keep safety a priority.

“If you’re going to go to the work of building a temporary fence, be responsible,” Bauman said. “Take time to do it well and make sure that your livestock don’t impede the safety of others.”

Consider this

The variety of manufacturers and products available for temporary fencing can be overwhelming, so a few guidelines should be kept in mind when researching products.

• Product quality and longevity (often projected

by the manufacturer)

• Ease of use

• Performance under conditions on YOUR ranch.

− Heavy or thick vegetation

− Multiple corners vs straight lines

− Physical condition of manager or laborers

− Weight and bulk of the fence materials

− Time of year of projected fence installations

and livestock movements

− Soils characteristics for grounding

− Wetlands, creeks, and drainages

− Livestock temperament and training

− Wildlife issues

− Potential sources of increased fence pressure

from livestock congregation

• Gates

• Prevailing wind direction

• Flies and other pests

• Water sources

• Shade

• Inadequate forage

• Neighboring crops

• Neighboring livestock, especially during the

breeding season

• Costs of any specialty tools and equipment

necessary for installation and maintenance

• Price

• Local availability

• Technical support, customer service, and

practical advice

− Manufacturer

− Retailer

− Neighbors and friends

From the SDSU Extension BEEF publication, Pasture Fences: Innovations by Pete Bauman

The following is taken from the SDSU Extension BEEF publication, Pasture Fences: Innovations by Pete Bauman

The variety of manufacturers and products available

for temporary fencing can be overwhelming, so a few

guidelines should be kept in mind when researching


• Product quality and longevity (often projected

by the manufacturer)

• Ease of use

• Performance under conditions on YOUR ranch.

− Heavy or thick vegetation

− Multiple corners vs straight lines

− Physical condition of manager or laborers

− Weight and bulk of the fence materials

− Time of year of projected fence installations

and livestock movements

− Soils characteristics for grounding

− Wetlands, creeks, and drainages

− Livestock temperament and training

− Wildlife issues

− Potential sources of increased fence pressure

from livestock congregation

• Gates

• Prevailing wind direction

• Flies and other pests

• Water sources

• Shade

• Inadequate forage

• Neighboring crops

• Neighboring livestock, especially during the

breeding season

• Costs of any specialty tools and equipment

necessary for installation and maintenance

• Price

• Local availability

• Technical support, customer service, and

practical advice

− Manufacturer

− Retailer

− Neighbors and friends

Test, Don’t Guess – sampling and testing hay

Fall is here and the weather reminds us of the changing of the seasons. This is the time of year when many producers are hauling hay home for the winter as well as pricing and purchasing hay. There is a tremendous range in hay quality depending upon level of maturity, fertilization, growing conditions, harvest circumstances and storage methods. Accurately sampling and testing hay is the only way to get a real understanding of the nutritive value of feed. Using values from previous years or a “book value” can be costly since a producer may incorrectly develop a ration using values that aren’t representative.

Guidelines for sampling

When sampling hay, getting a representative sample is a critical first step. Samples must accurately represent the entire lot of hay. When obtaining a sample for analysis, it should be kept separate from other lots of hay. The UNL NebGuide “Sampling Feeds for Analyses” (PDF version, 655KB) states that a “lot” of hay should be harvested from the same field consisting of similar types of plants, cutting dates, maturity, variety, weed contamination, type of harvest equipment, curing methods and storage conditions. When these conditions differ, feed should be designated and sampled as a separate “lot”.

Hay samples should be taken using a hay probe or a core sampler. The hay probe should penetrate at least 12-18 inches into the bale and have an internal diameter of at least 3/8 of an inch. Using your hand to grab a sample will not consistently provide reliable results. Tips of hay probes should be kept sharp to cut through hay and prevent selective sampling. Avoid getting hay probes hot when using a drill to drive the probe into the bale, since friction from high speeds can heat the probe to a point where it damages the hay sample.

To get a representative hay sample from a “lot” of hay, select 15-20 bales in the lot. Knowing the total number of bales that are present can help identify a random method that should be used (such as sample every fourth bale) to obtain an accurate sample. Once all of the samples for a “lot” have been collected, the samples may need to be sub-sampled to get the feed down to a sample size that can be sent in for analysis. The UNL NebGuide “Sampling Feeds for Analyses” walks through a step-by-step process to do this. Being careful to ensure the sub-sample submitted is representative is important.

Accurately testing hay takes time and money. Troy Walz
Courtesy photo

Once hay samples have been taken store in a plastic sealed bag in cool dry place until the sample is ready to be submitted. Samples that contain over 15% moisture should be frozen. Make sure to label the bag with your name, address, lot identification and feed type. Most commercial labs provide an information submittal form that allows producers to select a standard feed test for forages. Whenever possible, send samples into the lab early in the week to avoid having the samples sit over a weekend.

Analyze for moisture, protein and energy

Cattle feeds should be analyzed for moisture, protein and energy. Producers may also want to have forages tested for key minerals. Feed sample results are usually reported on an as-is and dry-matter basis.

When developing a ration for cattle or comparing feeds to one another, always utilize the nutrient analysis on a dry-matter basis. After formulating a ration on a dry-matter basis, the values can then be converted to an as-is basis using the moisture content of the feed to determine the actual amount of feed that should be fed to the cattle on an as-is basis.

Analyze forages for nitrates

In addition to moisture, protein and energy, annual forages harvested for hay such as foxtail millet, oats, sudan grass and sorghum-sudan hybrids should be analyzed for nitrates. These annual forages can accumulate high levels of nitrates under various growing conditions that can potentially reach toxic levels. The only way to know if high levels of nitrate accumulation have occurred is to test for it. See the UNL NebGuide “Nitrates in Livestock Feeding” (PDF version, 319KB) for additional information. For additional information on understanding the results from a hay analyses, please see the “Understanding a Feed Analysis” Learning Module on the UNL Beef website.


Accurately testing hay takes time and money. However, the value of this information is critical in accurately and cost-effectively formulating rations. Don’t let the small investment of time and money discourage you, it may be some of the best time and money you can invest in your operation.

Interviews with the authors of BeefWatch newsletter articles become available throughout the month of publication and are accessible at https://go.unl.edu/podcast.

–UNL Extension

Five Tips to Keeping Livestock Vaccines Viable on Farm

Brookings, S.D. – Vaccines are crucial to keeping livestock healthy and productive. While vaccines do not provide absolute protection, the “added insurance” helps stimulate the animal’s immune system and increases its ability to fight off an infection or lessen the impact of disease if it should occur.

However, with timing, labor constraints and the necessity for boosters, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Veterinarian and State Public Health Veterinarian Russ Daly says there are several factors to consider before implementing a vaccination program.

“Herd history, vaccine type, method of administration and age of animal all come into play, so it is critical for producers to work with their local veterinarian in developing a vaccination program,” Daly says. “They have experience with and knowledge of the many different vaccines, as well as the disease issues in area herds.”

Most vaccines are either modified-live virus (MLV) or inactivated “killed.” MLV vaccines contain whole germs that have been altered such that, while they are able to multiply within the body, their ability to cause disease has been taken away. Inactivated vaccines contain bacteria or viruses that have been inactivated by heat or chemicals.

Whether the producer/veterinarian team chooses an inactivated or MLV vaccination program, Daly says it’s important that the vaccines don’t go past their prime.

“Proteins are the major components of the organisms that make up both killed and MLV vaccines, and they disintegrate according to two major factors: time and temperature. As time passes, the proteins that make up the vaccine organisms break up into smaller parts. Eventually, given enough time, there will no longer be enough intact organisms to effectively stimulate an immune response,” Daly says. “Also, storage temperatures higher than label recommendations will result in a quicker rate of disintegration and will reduce the effectiveness of any vaccine, whether inactivated or MLV. At the other extreme, freezing temperatures will also adversely affect vaccines.”

In addition to time and temperature, common disinfectants and ultraviolent light can reduce the viability of modified-live organisms. “Modified-live vaccines will only remain viable for an hour or two following their rehydration, even if they are kept cool,” Daly says.

Daly recommends the following tips for handling, storing and using vaccines:

* Purchasing vaccines and equipment: Observe expiration dates prior to purchase. Purchase the appropriate type and sufficient number of needles for the job. Plan on replacing needles when they become bent, dull or dirty, and before drawing up vaccine into the syringe.

* Transporting and storing vaccines: Keep boxes and bottles cool and out of sunlight while in transport. Use frozen ice packs in an insulated box in the summer and prevent vaccines from freezing in the winter. Prior to use, store vaccines in a properly working refrigerator.

* Equipment and work area: Use clean syringes, but not those that have had internal parts cleaned with soap or chemical disinfectants, including alcohol. Set up an area for syringes such that they are shaded and kept cool and dust-free while working.

* While working: Keep vaccine bottles in a closed cooler with ice packs (summer) or hot packs (winter) until they are needed. When using MLV vaccines, rehydrate the vials either one at a time as they are needed or as many as you will use within an hour. Always use a brand-new needle to draw vaccine into the syringe. Protect syringes from heat, light and freezing while working. When using needle-free injection systems, or syringes that draw doses from a tube attached to the vaccine bottle, care should be taken to assure the bottle and tubing stay cool and shaded from sunlight.

* After the job is complete: Discard any unused MLV vaccine that has been reconstituted. Discard any partial bottles of inactivated vaccine that have been contaminated by dirty needles. Return unmixed MLV and unused inactivated vaccines to a properly working refrigerator as soon as possible. Clean syringes, transfer needles and tubing. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on proper cleaning and maintenance of needle-free injection systems.

For more information on how vaccines work and proper storage and handling recommendations, visit the SDSU Extension website for this fact sheet (extension.sdstate.edu/livestock-vaccines-how-they-work-and-how-ensure-they-do-their-job) on vaccine basics and tips to maintain vaccine viability.

–SDSU Extension

To Bale, or Not to Bale

By Traci Eatherton

Fall fires, lack of winter moisture, and a slow start to the growing season are all leading producers to rework their grazing plans and some are even opting to graze pastures instead of baling them.

Last fall, extension specialists in range management were already leading the advice columns on drought planning for 2021.

With 2020 closing on a dry note, Dan Folske, at North Dakota State University predicted in a November 16, 2020 article that, “Pastures stressed by drought and/or overgrazing this fall more than likely will experience a delay in grazing readiness in 2021.”

Clayton Patten, a third-generation rancher near Broadus, Montana, said he’s turning cows out on land that typically produces a thousand to 1,500 bales.

“Some of mine, I basically elected to not take them off this spring. And I have a couple other fields I intend to graze this winter, instead of haying,” Patten said.

“I don’t even think I will start the equipment,” Patten added.

Lack of winter snow and little moisture this spring has changed the norm on the Patten ranch. Fortunately, Patten understands the need to be flexible with mother nature and works his grazing plan around the current conditions.

“The bottom line is that grazing ‘systems’ thinking can lead one down the road of a fixed-practice approach to grazing management,” Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist Rather shared.

“Producers should think about a system of ‘intensive management,’ where the manager makes informed decisions based on the current conditions, including grazing duration, necessary recovery and desired outcomes. The goal is to avoid decisions driven by the calendar or a fixed schedule of grazing and recovery, regardless of environmental conditions at the time.”

According to SDSU Extension Field Specialist, Heather Gessner, this is not an easy decision, with a lot of things to consider.

Those opting to graze hayfields that they typically put up for winter feed need to do a little pre-planning, according to Gessner.

Water quality and quantity is top priority, Gessner points out. Salinity, sulfates, alkalinity, nitrates, blue-green algae, and more are all factors that can affect water quality, and cause problems, including anthrax outbreaks.

Feed quality and quantity also need to be considered, Gessner points out.

“Producers need to determine how much feed is required to meet the nutritional needs of the cowherd,” Gessner said.

Gessner has created a calculator to help producers decide whether or not to “move the cows or move the feed.” https://extension.sdstate.edu/move-cows-or-move-feed

For those opting to keep cows, supplementing feed may be necessary, and quality vs quantity will be a leading factor.

“When buying hay, make sure you are buying hay with some feed value,” Gessner recommends.

“Many factors can affect the quality of grass hay and alfalfa harvested during the summer. To create a balanced, low-cost ration, you should know the value of the total digestible nutrients (TDN) and protein levels in the forages considered for the diet,” Gessner said.

Producers’ summer grazing and haying plan should also consider long term goals.

“How do the decisions we make today, affect us down the road in 3 years and 5 years,” Gessner said. “If I overgraze it this year, is it a 3-year fix, or a 5-year fix.”

And those opting to go ahead and bale, have to consider the cost of putting up the hay. Determining the true cost of production may be difficult because some costs are more ambiguous than items like seed, fertilizer and chemicals, according to Gessner.

Producers that have kept logs of fuel used during windrowing, raking, baling, loading and hauling, can refer back for the total gallons of fuel used per acre. Labor hours are also a factor, along with other costs, such as twine, wrap, maintenance, etc.

Iowa State Extension publishes a yearly custom rate guide, and it is another resource for those determining the value of their forage production costs. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a3-10.pdf

While some areas in the midwest are extremely dry, others have been getting some relief with rainfall, according to Matt Reeves, PhD, Research Ecologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, in Missoula, MT.

Reeves shared summaries of the areas based off Fuelecast.net, an interactive map that offers weekly fuel and rangeland production forecasts and history.

“In the Dakotas, very dry soil moisture conditions have led to reductions of yield in the realm of 30 – 50 percent in select watersheds. Localized losses exceeding 70 percent are present but not widespread, and limited to North Dakota. Almost everywhere in ND is experiencing significant losses.

“In South Dakota, the north and eastern parts appear to be the most hard hit with losses about 25 – 35 percent on average. The Black Hills is also expected to see reduced yields of 15 – 20 percent but with ample standing dead from a good grass crop last year, wildfire remains a concern.

“In Montana the NE corner and central portions are the hardest hit with losses ranging from 30 – 50 percent, especially near Glasgow and Grass Range. The greater losses are not as widespread as in the Dakotas, however, and overall Montana is exhibiting flat to slightly negative yield conditions (5 – 10 percent).

“Projections for Colorado (beginning in March) started out worse in the eastern part of the state but due to some recent moisture events especially on the front range, things have improved. However, the western part of the state could see yields depressed as much as 50 – 65 percent in some area with overall losses hovering near 25 percent, especially near the New Mexico State line.

“Wyoming appears to be a brighter spot overall with yields at or above normal with a few exceptions along the Colorado border.”

Bottom line, producers are making tough decisions this year, and extensionsspecialists and government programs are available to help.

As drought conditions worsen, livestock producers can utilize feed assistance from the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (USDA FSA), Gessner said.

“One of the improvements to the current farm bill was the addition of funded disaster programs,” Gessner added. “These programs provide funds to producers much faster and in a better manner than the ad hoc programs of the past. The LFP is one of those programs.”

While Patten hasn’t decided to sell cattle yet, he credits programs like LFP for getting producers through difficult times.

“I’m thankful for the programs,” Patten said. “They are necessary.”

The LFP fact sheet can be found at https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/livestock_forage_program_lfp-fact_sheet.pdf.

Limited rainfall has stunted hay growth in some areas, causing ranchers to consider grazing their hayfields instead of cutting them. Photo by Traci Eatherton

Finding the right water solutions for a rotational grazing plan

PIERRE, SD – What does a pasture have in common with a marathon runner?

According to Natural Resources Conservation Service State Grazing Lands Soil Health Specialist Tanse Herrmann, they both need time to recover.

“A marathon athlete, for instance, doesn’t train the full length of an actual marathon in their practice sessions,” he said. “If that human trained and performed 26 miles day-in and day-out leading up to their actual event, by the time their event rolls around, they might not have the physical capability of performing to their best level because they’ve overdone it. Season-long grazing is potentially the same thing for our plants.”

Just like a runner won’t be able to perform well if they have overexerted themselves in practice, grazing lands won’t be as productive if they have been sequentially grazed closer and closer to the ground through season-long grazing.

That’s where rotational grazing can help. It’s a system in which a producer’s grazing land is divided into smaller pastures. The animals are concentrated in one pasture at a time, allowing the other pastures to put on more growth, develop their root systems and capture carbon.

“Having rotation available to us for livestock grazing enhances plant health and vigor,” Herrmann said. “It improves soil health, water infiltration, the ability of the plant life on the landscape to perform photosynthesis and store carbon in the organic matter of the growing plants and their living roots.”

Water source

Rotational grazing is good for livestock and the landscape, but it does come with its own challenges to consider.

One of those is water.

Figuring out how to supply water for the livestock to each individual pasture is a puzzle that every producer will need to solve.

The first step in designing a rotational grazing water plan is identifying a source, Herrmann said.

“Is there water that can be accessed nearby? Are there dependable surface water structures such as ponds, dugouts, or dams in each pasture? Is there rural water available nearby? Can I drill a well?” he asked. “Is there power available to move that water, or do I need to investigate a solar powered pumping system? If we’re operating from a private well, there’s got to be some mechanism of hydraulically moving that water from Point A to Point B in the form of your water tank or automatic waterer.”

The most economical source over the long term will likely be rural water, Herrmann said.

“The least expensive option is probably going to be – if it’s available to you – rural water, particularly if that access meter is already bought and paid for,” he said. “But if it’s flowing nearby or just across the road and you’re able to purchase a tap, provided there’s volume available for that system to provide service, mostly likely that will be the least-cost option to you over that 20- or 30-year lifespan of the infrastructure, the pipeline and the watering facilities.”

Luke Perman operates Rock Hills Ranch near Lowry, SD, with his wife, Naomi, and his parents, Lyle and Garnet. Their operation has cow-calf, stocker yearling, and custom-grazed sheep enterprises, and they have been using rotational grazing for more than 30 years. Their livestock are moved between pastures every one to seven days depending on the herd, the time of year, and which pasture they’re in.

Perman said that his family’s operation uses a variety of different water sources.

“We’ve got three wells that we use to pipe water that services two-thirds of our ranch, probably,” he said. “That other third is mostly serviced by rural water. We do have some springs that we utilize as well as a trash pump that we use for pumping out of dugouts and dams. Rather than letting the cattle go in and foul up the water, we’ll fence out those water holes, and we’ll just pump out of the dam into a water tank for them.”

Water delivery

Once a water source has been identified, the next step is to figure out how to deliver it to the cattle. Should the pipeline be buried, or will the planned season of use allow the pipeline to remain aboveground or buried shallow?

“The servicing pipeline aboveground often times is going to be just as suitable as buried pipeline for many operations,” Herrmann said.

He pointed out that it’s sometimes easier to get permission to cross a neighbor’s land with aboveground pipe to connect with a water source. When livestock are no longer in that pasture, the producer can pull the pipeline back across the property line.

“In recent years, we have used more and more aboveground pipe,” Perman said. “Sometimes that’s just for summer use, so we don’t really need to have the expense of burying everything. Sometimes it’s because it’s leased ground, and maybe my landlord doesn’t want to invest a lot of money in water infrastructure. So, we just run it aboveground. Sometimes it’s just a matter of ‘We need to get something out there right now.’“

Mobile watering tanks are another way to deliver water to livestock.

“Mobile watering facilities are an excellent idea, particularly for someone who is implementing a fairly intense management scheme, as far as the grazing is concerned,” Herrmann said. “The real value in that is that you might only have to purchase one, two, or three of those setups to service your entire livestock herd and be able to service dozens of pastures with that one or two or three items.”

Perman said that his family has a couple of mobile tanks that they move frequently, sometimes for use with a trash pump, for use with sheep, and to supplement water installations that were designed for a smaller herd than he currently places in a pasture.

Regardless of the type of watering facility in use, the Permans use cellular-enabled game cameras with solar charged battery packs to monitor the water tanks. “They cost a little to get into, but data rates are cheap,” Perman said. “They save us boatloads of time checking water tanks.”

Mistakes to avoid

“One thing I’ve kind of learned is that designing a water system is as much an art as it is a science,” Perman said. He noted a few things for producers to consider before installing a water supply.

“Always build with the idea that you’re going to expand on the system in 10 years or 5 five years. Some of our early installations are all inch-and-a-half or maybe inch-and-a-quarter waterline with maybe an 8-foot tire tank, and that was fine for 150 cows, but it’s not fine for 300 (cows) or 500 or 600 yearlings,” he said. “Anytime we’re doing any kind of permanent installation at this point, we’re making sure that we have the ability to expand by either adding a second tank at that site or doing an aboveground waterline that we can run from that location a half-mile away.”

Another mistake to avoid, Perman said, is making an installation permanent before it has been tested.

“The main mistake we’ve made is making it permanent, thinking, ‘This is exactly how it needs to be, and it’ll never need to be any different,’” he said. “I feel like the best scenario is you run aboveground pipe with a portable tank, and you put it there for five years, and if you’re happy with it after five years, then you bury it and you make it permanent. Because sometimes you spend all the money to get everything installed permanently, and then six months later you realize, ‘You know, we should have put it over there.’”

Herrmann noted that it’s important to make sure a pasture has enough water sources for its size.

“If I’ve got a 500-acre pasture and only one watering tank out there, that can be a concern if that tank is clear up in the far corner of that pasture and the animals have to walk three-quarters of a mile or more,” he said. “All of sudden we’re giving up gains in performance in those livestock simply because of the amount of exercise they have to put forth to go get a drink of water.”

Perman also said producers should do their homework on what type of valve they should use on their water tank.

“I’ve gone to using just about exclusively these full-flow type valves or diaphragm-type valves because just as soon as that water level drops half an inch, the water is coming in at the full rate rather than the other style where the water has got to drop close to a foot before you’ve got the full flow,” he said. “Well, that’s probably a fourth of your tank capacity sometimes if you’re waiting for it to drop a foot.”

Help available

There are cost share programs available to help producers install water systems to facilitate rotational grazing. Perman said that his family has used cost share programs through NRCS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

“There are also multiple conservation entities in the state that offer financial assistance for livestock water, fencing and making livestock use of cropped land a possibility,” Herrmann noted.

“The technical advice that all of them provide is really helpful if you’re not sure what to do or you don’t have experience with designing these systems, especially if you’ve got things to worry about like elevation changes and that sort of thing,” Perman said.

“My best suggestion is visit with your local conservation district or Natural Resources Conservation Service. Visit with SDSU Extension. And a wealth of knowledge often comes in the form of your neighbors’ experience. If you have neighbors that have livestock and already have their pasture system set up, ask them what they’ve done in the past,” Herrmann said. “Take advantage of the lessons that other people have learned rather than making the same mistakes yourself.”

To learn more about rotational grazing and how it can benefit your operation, visit www.sdsoilhealthcoalition.org or contact the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition at 605=280-4190 or sdsoilhealth@gmail.com.

High-density polyethylene pipe with tees exposed during installation.
This type of portable water tank is served by aboveground, portable pipeline and normally has a cover to protect the float during use. An ATV can pull this tank and 2,000 feet of pipe to its new location each day. Photo courtesy Pat Guptill
This is a typical tire tank used by the Permans. It is 12 to 13 feet in diameter and has a 5-foot cement skirt and a 10-inch PVC riser pipe. An insulated float box provides geothermal heat to prevent the float from freezing up during winter.
Luke Perman uses this auto-start-and-stop trash pump to pump water out of dugouts and dams.
The Permans use this portable water setup for about 800 ewes with 1,200 lambs because their tire tanks are too tall for the lambs to reach. Photos courtesy Perman family



This is a precast concrete water tank with protections. Photo courtesy of USDA-NRCS SD




–South Dakota Soil Health

Can livestock utilize moldy grain?

An ear of corn in a field with visible white mold on the tip of the ear.

The record-breaking wet conditions across South Dakota last year have resulted in a significant amount of corn still remaining in fields. Soggy fields this spring make removing that corn challenging but important, as outlined in Standing Corn Considerations.

Getting corn harvested from such fields is just the first challenge, however. The quality of the harvested grain may severely limit its marketability and usefulness. Moldy grain is the main consideration; moisture content is another.

While livestock producers know that moldy grain and forage are not ideal feedstuffs, they also know that stored feed occasionally contains a small amount of visible mold and that their animals consume it with no obvious adverse effects. The question arises, how much mold is too much for a feed to be unsuitable for animals? Also, which type of molds pose the most concern for aflatoxin and mycotoxin production?Labs that test feedstuffs for mold report their results in terms of cfus/gram (“spore count”). In general, feedstuffs with spore counts of 1 million or less per gram are safe to feed to livestock. Adjustments in rations should be made when feeds with higher spore counts are fed. Table 1 indicates safety levels and feeding risks and concerns.

Table 1. Mold count levels and feeding concerns.

Cfu/gram Feeding Risk and Concernsa

Under 500,000 Relatively low count

500,000 to 1 million Relatively safe

1 to 2 million Discount energy (x 0.95) feed with caution

2 to 3 million Closely observe animals and performance, discount energy (x 0.95)

3 to 5 million Dilute with other feeds, discount energy (x 0.95), observe closely

Over 5 million Discontinue feeding

a Risks refer primarily to effects of mold per se without regard to possible mycotoxin content. Depressed digestibility, feed intakes, and performance may occur from a high mold content without mycotoxins present. Harmful mycotoxins may be present, even when there is little or no obvious mold content.

As seen from Table 1, adjustments need to be made to rations due to mold counts in the feeds. Accumulation of mold can reduce the digestibility of the diet by up to 5% in ruminants, which is why Table 1 shows a 5% discount in energy levels once the mold counts reach 1 million. In addition to the reduced digestibility, palatability is another concern. Observing a reduction in feed intake of moldy feeds would not be unexpected, so diluting these feeds to reduce palatability concerns can result in more consistent intake. If mold counts reach 3 to 5 million, the feed should be diluted to 50% or less of the total ration and mixed with other feeds that contain few to no mold spores.

Grain tested for marketing purposes will sometimes have mold results reported as % mold damage. This is an estimate of the number of moldy kernels in a sample, it and is difficult to interpret regarding suitability for livestock feed.

For livestock feeding purposes, knowing whether mycotoxins are present in moldy feed is much more important than knowing mold spore counts. Mycotoxins are chemicals produced by certain molds; they adversely affect the health and production of animals exposed to them, and their presence may make their products (particularly milk) unsalable. Not all molds produce mycotoxins, and important levels of mycotoxins can be present when mold infestation appears mild.

Mycotoxins important in livestock feeding include vomitoxin (DON), fumonisin, zearalenone, T-2, and aflatoxin. Their effects on animals depend on the individual toxin and the amount consumed, and can include feed refusal, decreased growth and milk production, reproductive problems, and – in the case of aflatoxin – death losses. The effects of mycotoxins can appear vague, lag behind feeding substantially, and are difficult or impossible to detect in the body – making their detection in feedstuffs prior to their use very important.

Knowing the specific mycotoxins and their concentrations present in feed can help inform how the feed might be used for animal feed. Different animal species and production stages have different sensitivities to mycotoxins – examples of which are found in this Pennsylvania State University Extension (PSU Extension) article. In general, feedlot calves are less likely to experience adverse effects of mycotoxins compared to breeding-age cows, pigs, poultry, or dairy cows.

Moldy feeds should be sampled prior to use and screened for the presence of mycotoxins. The NDSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory runs an extensive mycotoxin screening panel. Producers should remember that unless the sampled grain is dry (< 15% moisture), mold growth and mycotoxin production will likely increase as the grain is stored. As with any feed evaluation, representative sampling technique is critical. A sample analysis is only as good at the sample the screen was completed on. A representative sample of the feedstuff will ensure that the sample sent to the lab represents the total of the feed available to be fed. There are suggested sampling methods outlined depending on the moisture content of the sample. These methods will help insure a representative sample (PSU Extension). This website also provides valuable information on interpreting results.

–SDSU Extension

Wind from every direction

Following the weather is just a part of the job for ranchers. Knowing when and from where imminent snow storms are coming is important, but just as important is knowing what wind chill factor those winter time storms will bring and knowing that livestock have ways to escape the elements.

East or south winds can throw a kink in the normal plans, and being prepared for storms from those directions can be challenging.

Campbell County rancher Neal Sorenson says they generally see storms come from the northwest, and although sometimes the wind will shift after a storm and drift snow back from any direction, he has been pleased with the protection his wind breaks provide and never worried about portable wind panels. His in-laws from windy southern Wyoming, however, do use portable wind panels and have had great luck with them after securing them down.

While some may be concerned that the portable windbreak panels will blow over, the heavy, sturdy ones, when properly secured, should stay in place.

“Sometimes when the snow thaws and freezes again, it will ice them in so they become not portable anymore of course,” Sorenson says. “I’ve seen a guy to lift them out of the ground and it broke the pipe off because they were froze down.”

Sorenson has worked with the NRCS to put two windbreaks on winter feed grounds to protect his livestock, getting both technical assistance in the design as well as financial assistance for materials.

“We used his recommendation on what Tim (Tim Kellogg, district conservationist for the Wyoming Natural Resources Conservation Service Gillette Field Office) thought about it and where to put it, he looked it over before hand and then we built it and he checked to make sure we were to spec after that,” Sorenson says. “It worked good.”

Trees rows are common forms of wind protection-the NRCS recommends in Wyoming at least three rows, but five are preferred while in North Dakota, at least five rows are recommended with eight preferred. In northeast Wyoming though, it can take up to 15 years for trees to fully mature and offer adequate protection, not to mention often require a drip irrigation system and yearly maintenance. Kellogg says he tends to see ranchers take a man-made route and put up what the NRCS calls Livestock Shelter Structures. Materials vary, and shelters can be made completely of wood, although the materials require more yearly maintenance than the more common alternative, steel.

The most common structure shape that Kellogg sees in northeast Wyoming are V shaped, but wind breaks can also be semi-circle shaped or straight line structures, the best choice depends on the type of weather and terrain. A study from the University of Nebraska recommends V or L shaped structures for coverage where wind and snow come from a consistent direction and semicircle shaped for areas where weather changes direction often. The V shaped structure that the NRCS recommends consist of two walls at 90-degree angles, creating a V and is constructed by setting posts into the ground and using metal siding to create a solid face, which is what Sorenson says he used on his ranch. While temporary or portable wind breaks are available to help ranchers who are experiencing changes in weather patterns, such as more east winds when they typically see north or west winds, portable wind breaks are just as easy for the wind to move as it is for humans, Kellogg warns. Unless they are firmly chained down, he has seen them be blown great distances. Typically, Kellogg says that the amount of east winds are so rare that ranchers are better off setting up their wind blocks from the most common prevailing winds.

NRCS research shows that wind breaks could result in up to an 80 percent reduction in wind speed, but proper placement to protect livestock from prevailing winter winds while not blocking summer breezes is critical, including post diameter, spacing and structure height and length, which is why experts are available to help ranchers create and implement plans, including making site visits, regardless of whether they are enrolled in and NRCS program or not.

“Tim is a great guy and he’s helped us with a lot of these programs,” Sorenson says. “We’re lucky to have a guy in that position that understands range management and he’s a good asset for us.”

If the thermometer reads zero degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service, even a 5 mile per hour wind will result in a wind chill factor of 11 degrees below zero. At zero degrees, a 15 mile per hour wind would result in a wind chill factor of 19 degrees below zero and only take 30 minutes to cause frostbite. Of course, ranchers know that as temperatures decrease, nutrient requirements in livestock increase and under extreme low temperatures, cattle require more feed to continue to meet those requirements and maintain body condition, or even to maintain body temperature. Because of this, it’s recommended by Kellogg, that any time cattle are in a confined area with no draws, trees or other shelter from wind that there be some sort of strategically places protection.