From fields to grasslands | TSLN.com

From fields to grasslands

Loretta Sorensen

Ten years ago, Pukwana, SD ranchers Larry Wagner and his wife Dr. Julie Williams (DVM) patiently listened to one of Larry’s friends express concern when the Wagners began making plans to convert very productive crop ground back to grassland.

In spite of other people’s concern that grass would not generate good income through a cow-calf operation, the Wagners did convert their fields to grass and now produce 180 cows, 70 replacement heifers and 100 yearlings for grass fattening every year.

“We’ve never looked back, it was what Larry wanted to do and he could make it pencil out,” Julie told the crowd that recently gathered at the Wagner’s ranch for a pasture walk. “We’ve learned that just because someone else says something can’t be done, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it work.”

Both Julie and Larry joined Knox County Extension Educator Terry Gompert in addressing the group of nearly 70 people who came to hear the Wagner’s explain how they raise their cattle on forage and why they chose to do so.

Among the many changes the Wagner’s made to their ranch in order to reduce costs for winter feed for cows is a windrow-grazing plan that utilizes all three of what used to be their hay fields. They still bale two of the fields each year and use the forage, intermediate wheat grass, for feeding calves after weaning and in instances when deep or crusted snows inhibit their winter grazing plan for cows.

The Wagner’s rotate through a three-year cycle so that they’re using a different field for windrow grazing each year. They winter their bred females on the windrowed wheat grass since it doesn’t contain enough energy to finish their fat cattle but is good for dry cows at seven to 10 percent protein.

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The wheat grass they’ve sown in their field is cut into windrows in July. They won’t bring their cows into the windrows until December after grazing any standing forage possible.

“I come in and set up electric fence along one windrow at a time,” Larry said. “The fence is set up so the cows reach under it to get to the windrow. That way they’re not walking on it. There will be some re-growth in between the windrows they can graze and that increases feed value. It takes about 45 minutes to set up the fence. I come in and move it every day with a four-wheeler and a dog. We usually run between 200 and 300 head and there’s probably 45 days of grazing there on average.”

Last year, Larry was very concerned that his windrowed wheat grass might have been spoiled by 17 inches of rain that came after he had it windrowed. As he feared, the water logged windrows began to turn black and re-growth started coming up through them.

“I had it tested to see what the protein content was, because I thought a significant amount of the protein was probably damaged with the heavy rain,” Larry said.

What he found was that he had lost very little of that nutrient but had less quality of feed. The cattle were undeterred by the appearance of the wheat grass and cleaned up every bit of it.

“With the windrow grazing, I have also learned that the hoof action on the frozen ground isn’t as beneficial as it would be in warmer months,” Larry said. “But I can tell you that the windrowed field will be evenly covered with manure and urine by the time we move the cattle, and I really like that benefit of not having to fertilize.”

The Wagner’s have also learned how to deal with snows that are typical of the climate where they live and usually cover at least a portion of their windrows.

“Cattle will dig through as much as 18 inches of snow to get to the windrow,” Larry said. “When they do that, they’re eating a lot of snow with that forage so that cuts down on their need for water too, although we have water for them all winter. If part of the windrow is exposed, they’ll work their way down it and dig through the snow.”

If snow becomes crusted over from freezing rain or a cycle of thawing and freezing, cattle can’t dig into it to reach forage. In that instance, the Wagner’s use a v-plow to help open the end of the windrow or uncover all of it, depending on how much snow there is.

“We can open it at least part way with the v-plow,” Julie said. “Once it’s started, the cows will keep breaking through the snow to get at the feed. If weather conditions are really bad, we usually move the cows to an area with protection against wind and snow because where they graze is pretty wide open.”

Ten years ago, Pukwana, SD ranchers Larry Wagner and his wife Dr. Julie Williams (DVM) patiently listened to one of Larry’s friends express concern when the Wagners began making plans to convert very productive crop ground back to grassland.

In spite of other people’s concern that grass would not generate good income through a cow-calf operation, the Wagners did convert their fields to grass and now produce 180 cows, 70 replacement heifers and 100 yearlings for grass fattening every year.

“We’ve never looked back, it was what Larry wanted to do and he could make it pencil out,” Julie told the crowd that recently gathered at the Wagner’s ranch for a pasture walk. “We’ve learned that just because someone else says something can’t be done, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it work.”

Both Julie and Larry joined Knox County Extension Educator Terry Gompert in addressing the group of nearly 70 people who came to hear the Wagner’s explain how they raise their cattle on forage and why they chose to do so.

Among the many changes the Wagner’s made to their ranch in order to reduce costs for winter feed for cows is a windrow-grazing plan that utilizes all three of what used to be their hay fields. They still bale two of the fields each year and use the forage, intermediate wheat grass, for feeding calves after weaning and in instances when deep or crusted snows inhibit their winter grazing plan for cows.

The Wagner’s rotate through a three-year cycle so that they’re using a different field for windrow grazing each year. They winter their bred females on the windrowed wheat grass since it doesn’t contain enough energy to finish their fat cattle but is good for dry cows at seven to 10 percent protein.

The wheat grass they’ve sown in their field is cut into windrows in July. They won’t bring their cows into the windrows until December after grazing any standing forage possible.

“I come in and set up electric fence along one windrow at a time,” Larry said. “The fence is set up so the cows reach under it to get to the windrow. That way they’re not walking on it. There will be some re-growth in between the windrows they can graze and that increases feed value. It takes about 45 minutes to set up the fence. I come in and move it every day with a four-wheeler and a dog. We usually run between 200 and 300 head and there’s probably 45 days of grazing there on average.”

Last year, Larry was very concerned that his windrowed wheat grass might have been spoiled by 17 inches of rain that came after he had it windrowed. As he feared, the water logged windrows began to turn black and re-growth started coming up through them.

“I had it tested to see what the protein content was, because I thought a significant amount of the protein was probably damaged with the heavy rain,” Larry said.

What he found was that he had lost very little of that nutrient but had less quality of feed. The cattle were undeterred by the appearance of the wheat grass and cleaned up every bit of it.

“With the windrow grazing, I have also learned that the hoof action on the frozen ground isn’t as beneficial as it would be in warmer months,” Larry said. “But I can tell you that the windrowed field will be evenly covered with manure and urine by the time we move the cattle, and I really like that benefit of not having to fertilize.”

The Wagner’s have also learned how to deal with snows that are typical of the climate where they live and usually cover at least a portion of their windrows.

“Cattle will dig through as much as 18 inches of snow to get to the windrow,” Larry said. “When they do that, they’re eating a lot of snow with that forage so that cuts down on their need for water too, although we have water for them all winter. If part of the windrow is exposed, they’ll work their way down it and dig through the snow.”

If snow becomes crusted over from freezing rain or a cycle of thawing and freezing, cattle can’t dig into it to reach forage. In that instance, the Wagner’s use a v-plow to help open the end of the windrow or uncover all of it, depending on how much snow there is.

“We can open it at least part way with the v-plow,” Julie said. “Once it’s started, the cows will keep breaking through the snow to get at the feed. If weather conditions are really bad, we usually move the cows to an area with protection against wind and snow because where they graze is pretty wide open.”

Ten years ago, Pukwana, SD ranchers Larry Wagner and his wife Dr. Julie Williams (DVM) patiently listened to one of Larry’s friends express concern when the Wagners began making plans to convert very productive crop ground back to grassland.

In spite of other people’s concern that grass would not generate good income through a cow-calf operation, the Wagners did convert their fields to grass and now produce 180 cows, 70 replacement heifers and 100 yearlings for grass fattening every year.

“We’ve never looked back, it was what Larry wanted to do and he could make it pencil out,” Julie told the crowd that recently gathered at the Wagner’s ranch for a pasture walk. “We’ve learned that just because someone else says something can’t be done, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it work.”

Both Julie and Larry joined Knox County Extension Educator Terry Gompert in addressing the group of nearly 70 people who came to hear the Wagner’s explain how they raise their cattle on forage and why they chose to do so.

Among the many changes the Wagner’s made to their ranch in order to reduce costs for winter feed for cows is a windrow-grazing plan that utilizes all three of what used to be their hay fields. They still bale two of the fields each year and use the forage, intermediate wheat grass, for feeding calves after weaning and in instances when deep or crusted snows inhibit their winter grazing plan for cows.

The Wagner’s rotate through a three-year cycle so that they’re using a different field for windrow grazing each year. They winter their bred females on the windrowed wheat grass since it doesn’t contain enough energy to finish their fat cattle but is good for dry cows at seven to 10 percent protein.

The wheat grass they’ve sown in their field is cut into windrows in July. They won’t bring their cows into the windrows until December after grazing any standing forage possible.

“I come in and set up electric fence along one windrow at a time,” Larry said. “The fence is set up so the cows reach under it to get to the windrow. That way they’re not walking on it. There will be some re-growth in between the windrows they can graze and that increases feed value. It takes about 45 minutes to set up the fence. I come in and move it every day with a four-wheeler and a dog. We usually run between 200 and 300 head and there’s probably 45 days of grazing there on average.”

Last year, Larry was very concerned that his windrowed wheat grass might have been spoiled by 17 inches of rain that came after he had it windrowed. As he feared, the water logged windrows began to turn black and re-growth started coming up through them.

“I had it tested to see what the protein content was, because I thought a significant amount of the protein was probably damaged with the heavy rain,” Larry said.

What he found was that he had lost very little of that nutrient but had less quality of feed. The cattle were undeterred by the appearance of the wheat grass and cleaned up every bit of it.

“With the windrow grazing, I have also learned that the hoof action on the frozen ground isn’t as beneficial as it would be in warmer months,” Larry said. “But I can tell you that the windrowed field will be evenly covered with manure and urine by the time we move the cattle, and I really like that benefit of not having to fertilize.”

The Wagner’s have also learned how to deal with snows that are typical of the climate where they live and usually cover at least a portion of their windrows.

“Cattle will dig through as much as 18 inches of snow to get to the windrow,” Larry said. “When they do that, they’re eating a lot of snow with that forage so that cuts down on their need for water too, although we have water for them all winter. If part of the windrow is exposed, they’ll work their way down it and dig through the snow.”

If snow becomes crusted over from freezing rain or a cycle of thawing and freezing, cattle can’t dig into it to reach forage. In that instance, the Wagner’s use a v-plow to help open the end of the windrow or uncover all of it, depending on how much snow there is.

“We can open it at least part way with the v-plow,” Julie said. “Once it’s started, the cows will keep breaking through the snow to get at the feed. If weather conditions are really bad, we usually move the cows to an area with protection against wind and snow because where they graze is pretty wide open.”