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Grazing method shows benefits

July 18, 2012
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

TRUMAN - Every three to four days, Larry Bremer walks out to his field, opens a gate and watches 47 ewes come running.

The sheep eagerly go from one paddock to the next, where they immediately tuck into the alfalfa and orchardgrass they have been eyeing for the past day or so.

Bremer has rotated his sheep through a series of sections of pasture for years, and finds the practice beneficial.

Article Photos

HUNGRY?CREW?— Larry Bremer moves his sheep from one pasture to the next Tuesday at his farm south of Truman during a demonstration on rotational grazing.

Rotational grazing has proven itself to be of benefit to the farmer, the livestock and the pasture itself, but it is still largely under-utilized in Minnesota, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service grassland specialist Lance Smith led a group of interested parties through Bremer's sheep pasture and John Volz's cow/calf pasture Tuesday, explaining how to get a rotational grazing system started, and why.

Smith said getting a system up and running is more labor-intensive than just fencing in a large portion of land, but it is better overall.

"If I had continuous grazing, I would have overgrazing in the shaded areas," Bremer said.

Rotating his livestock allows the plants to have time to recover while the sheep graze elsewhere. Overall, that leads to stronger plants that can get through winter more successfully and handle the occasional overgrazed area.

"Oops, I overgrazed one-tenth of the system," Smith said. "Did I hurt anything? No."

Bremer said the number of paddocks change as the year progresses. He starts with about six and moves up to about 16. It takes about 30 days to rotate the animals through the whole field.

The University of Minnesota Extension Service reports increases in the number of pounds cows gain on rotational pasturing versus continuous grazing, and says not only were the animals heavier, they had better body conditions at the end of the study.

The Conservation Service said programs are available to help farmers interested in trying rotational grazing, including financial and technical help through its EQIP program. To find out more about rotational grazing or how to implement it, contact your county Conservation Service office.

The office in Fairmont is located at 923 N. State St. The phone number is (507) 235-6661, ext. 3.

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