Rotational grazing revives prairie

The sheep avoided big bluestem that had become woody by Aug. 20 when grazing began, favoring more tender species, including little bluestem, side-oats grama, wild bergamot, yarrow, purple prairie clover and some sunflower species. Photo Credits: Ann Wessel, BWSR
Natural Resources Conservation Service website: www.nrcs.usda.gov
Slayton-based Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist Megan Howell, right, and NRCS Soil Conservation Technician Allisa Wendland identified plants growing in the rotationally grazed prairie on Sept. 17, 2020, in Murray County south of Garvin.

“CRP needs to be here to protect against soil erosion. It provides water quality by being an infiltrator and a filtration system, and it provides wildlife habitat,” Wendland said during a September 2020 site visit. “For a livestock producer, their goals are obviously to feed their animals, keep them healthy and get them to market. Here, it was a balance to how can we do both aspects.”

Chris Schmidt moved solar-powered fencing Sept. 17, 2020. Each rotationally grazed paddock was about three-quarters of an acre. The sheep were usually moved every three or four days.

“As far as the animals, it worked out great. They were getting I’d say a diversified forage mix and a lot of stuff that they have never seen before,” Schmidt said after the 60-day grazing period. “It was interesting to see what they ate.”

Chris Schmidt filled water tanks on Sept. 17, 2020, in a newly fenced rotational grazing paddock on a neighbor’s land in Murray County. Water must be hauled in from Schmidt’s farm just up the road. Solar-powered, portable fencing makes setting up new paddocks easier.

“Cool-season grasses can take over our prairies here in Minnesota if they are not kept in check, so having animals out there depleting the cool-season grasses’ carbohydrate storage before winter can help the native species rebound the next growing season,” Howell said.

The sheep trampled around the more mature, woodier big bluestem grass.
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