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Grazing rotationally

By Staff | Aug 29, 2015

-Farm News photos by Larry Kershner DARWIN PIERCE, pointing, describes how the rotational grazing system works at the Whiterock Conservancy, near Coon Rapids. Whiterock rents its pastureland to a neighboring cattleman, Pat Corey, whose herd can be seen in the far background. Whiterock covers 5,500 acres, most of it in pastureland.

Clover, forage management using cows

By LARRY Kershner


COON RAPIDS – On Aug. 7, the Whiterock Conservancy celebrated its opening of a new nature trail system for hikers and bicyclists designed to bring about encounters of trail users with nearby grazing animals.

Darwin Pierce, who manages Whiterock’s pasture program, said he grew up in that area, owning a nearby farm.

DARWIN PIERCE, who oversees the pasture program at Whiterock Conservancy, describes how pastures are divided into paddocks and how the piping system installed keeps cattle watered.

“This farm has always had cattle on the land,” Pierce said.

As they installed trails, they still wanted cattle on it.

“There is a history of recreation tied in with cattle.”

Of Whiterock’s 5,500 total acres, 700 are in pastures, divided into paddocks.

Whiterock was created after the Garst family, of Garst Seed, donated what has become the largest land grant in Iowa. Whiterock Conservancy is larger than many of Iowa’s state parks.

Darwin Pierce

Pierce said the Garst family managed the land until 2009. Cash rent grazing was tried from 2004 to 2008, he said, but there was no planned management and the pastures sustained intense damage.

“It wasn’t easy transitioning to rotational grazing,” Pierce told an audience of about two dozen farmers and conservation-minded attendees.

Investments, including some federal cost-share funds through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, allowed for erecting fencing and installing a variable rate water system. It also allowed for the creation of a series of paddocks, through which cattle are grazed, spending anywhere from a few hours to a day before moved to the next paddock.

It depends on weather conditions.

If it’s wet, Pierce said, “you can have a huge mudhole out there in just a four hours.”

Pat Corey

He said the fencing system allows for expanding the size of a paddock as pasture and plant conditions dictate. In general, each paddock gets to rest for 60 days before cattle are released back onto it again.

The grazing program reduced the herd size from 350 head to 280 until the pastures recovered enough to handle the current 300 to 325 head, depending on existing conditions of pastures and plants.

Pierce said there are fewer environmental impacts with rotational, density grazing including more plants growing, which also attract more wildlife.

“So we are ever more involved with plant management,” Pierce said. “In fact the cows are part of the plant management system.”

The pasture tenant, Pat Corey, said rotational grazing is labor-intensive, since it requires frequent moving of the herd and constant assessing of pasture conditions.

“But we have had no bloat problems with this system,” Corey said.

Because all of Whiterock’s new trails wind through the pastures, trail users will be able to view the cattle somewhere along the system.

Pierce said the long-term goal is to stock field ponds with fish and the pastures and woods with wild turkeys to add to the recreational option for visitors.

Other plans include cover crops in corn acres and grazing the herd on the cover, plus mixing in a multi-species grazing system.

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