September 13, 2022 at 1:55 p.m.
Symanietzes host field day
It was mud which led Greg and Becky Symanietz, of rural Avon, to start rotational grazing.
Greg returned to the family farm five years ago, continuing family ownership of a 47-herd beef cattle operation. The harsh, wet winter of 2016 and spring of 2017 is not a happy memory.
“I lost calves,” he said Aug. 25 during a Prescribed Grazing Field Day at his farm. “It was the mud. I got tired of mud everywhere. Cows were dragging utters through mud. I knew there had to be a better way to do it.”
Mud was in various pastures and the cattle feedlot. There were concerns from the Two Rivers Lake Association, as water from the farm drains into the lake. To address both problems, Symanietz opted to look at a better way of managing pasture land.
“Dad ran beef cattle for the 25 years prior to us coming here,” he said. “He did continuous grazing with very limited pasture use for the cattle. I am trying to rotate the cattle around and rejuvenate the pasture ground I have.”
Currently the Symanietzes and their children, Charlie, Alex and Amelia, manage an 80-acre farm with 45 acres of it farmable and 25 acres in pasture. Greg works off of the farm. Through arrangements with family and neighbors, there is an exchange of land use for pasture and cropland.
The lessons they learned about conventional, rotational and adaptive grazing – also called prescribed grazing – formed the heart of the four-hour field day organized by the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District. Presenters from the University of Minnesota Extension Office and the Sustainable Farming Association spoke about ways to build up and maintain a strong pasture for grazing operations. Representatives from the SCSWCD, United Stated Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification program were available to discuss programs.
Visitors were given a walking tour, which highlighted cattle crossing lanes and pasture land, and received a package of information on crops to be used, land use and agencies that can assist them.
The key to building a sustainable pasture program is capturing solar energy with grass, according to Jonathan Kilpatrick, from the SFA. A pasture needs good grass, which needs sunlight.
“Grass is a solar panel, and it gets more efficient with good grazing management,” Kilpatrick said during a presentation on developing good grazing management.
The two most common mistakes made in grazing pastures, according to Kilpatrick, is overgrazing and overstocking. Overstocking, or when the demand from the cattle exceeds the supply of forage the landscape can produce, can be monitored by watching herd size and recovery of the forage. Overgrazing results from the animals staying on a paddock (a unit or sub-division of a pasture) too long or having them back on the pasture before the grass has time to recover or regrow from the previous grazing.
Adaptive grazing was the preferred method, where cattle are moved to paddocks based on the managers observations and the recovery of the forage. This not only prevents overgrazing but allows for better manure distribution and utilization of the grass, helping fertilize the soil.
Rotational grazing can be similar, but often the animals are moved to different pastures on a scheduled basis and not necessarily making adjustments based on forage recovery and variabilities that occur during the growing season.
Conventional grazing is placing the cattle on a pasture until the grass has been eaten away.
To get the best results from any of the methods requires keeping track of how much feed can be produced for the size of the herd or flock. Various factors influence both areas, according to Nathan Drewitz, U of M extension educator.
“The important things we need to focus are on environmental and variety factors,” Drewitz said. “Often times, environmental factors will factor into what varieties or species (of grass) we should select.”
Environmental factors include the topography of the land, drainage, soil types, minerals levels and previous seed crops. Drewitz recommended having land tested to help determine elements such as minerals in the soil and what is needed to be added to the soil.
Variety selection factors include what kind of production is needed, what can grow on the land, palatability (if the animals will eat the grass), variety longevity, winter hardiness and establishment methods.
“Hone in on a handful of things that are important to your pastures. Keep it simple,” he said. “When starting out, or trying to figure out a new pasture, figure out what works for you.”
Symanietz said maintaining records, materials, asking for documents and patience are things farmers could bring to the programs.
“I started with the MAWQCP to help with fencing of the land to change how my cattle accessed certain areas of my property to facilitate the use of rotational grazing,” he said.
Overall, his experience with the SCSWCD, NRCS, MAWQCP and USDA provided him with great resources and was a positive experience.
“My only complaint is the timeline. It took longer than I thought,” he said when encouraging others to look at using the programs.
The Symanietz family uses some conventional and some rotational practices and would like to increase adaptive rotational practices into their system. Within the last five years new walk areas for the cattle, fenced off pastures and a reduction of the number of crossings through drainage areas have all occurred on the farm.
Greg saw the field day as a time to showcase and educate people. Changing how pastures are used is a continual learning process.
“I’ve seen some improvements,” he said. “Part of the reason I wanted people to come here was to look at the property, tell me what I am doing wrong and to learn a few things.”