Three questions with Fillmore SWCD based grazing specialist Dean Thomas

Dean Thomas, right, a Fillmore SWCD-based regional grazing specialist and soil health technician, visited with Tom Scarponcini about his rotational grazing operation in September 2023 in Winona County north of Rushford. Photo Credit: Ann Wessel, BWSR

Dean Thomas, a Fillmore SWCD-based regional grazing specialist and soil health technician, works directly with producers and trains conservation workers across a 22-county region. The following responses have been edited for length.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about rotational grazing?

You don’t get results overnight. It’s just like switching from conventional tillage to minimum-till or no-till. It takes time. But over time you’re going to start seeing the benefits: better animal health. You’re going to have wildlife coming in. You’re going to have healthier soils, healthier grasses. If that cow moves into lush grass, even in July and August, if she’s milking good, that calf is gaining weight.

What trends are you seeing?

In the last couple of years, there has been a higher demand (from) people doing rotational grazing. Some of it’s repeat customers. We’re getting more bigger operations getting into it. I think a lot of them are looking at trying to extend their grazing season somehow, (some) with cover crops at the end (of the season), but most of them are looking at rotational grazing. The №1 issue we have in the whole state of Minnesota is everybody wants to have way more cattle than what they’ve got land to (support). I’d say a lot of our pastures are over-stocked. If they would cut back their stocking rates, they’ll be weaning probably at the same weight with less animals. By doing that, you’re going to be supplement feeding less, and you’ll be able to graze longer in the season.

What’s the first question someone considering rotational grazing should ask?

When do they have time to do this management? By setting up rotational grazing, you’re going to have to be managing and moving cattle. Once a week? This doesn’t work for everybody. Some people just don’t have the time to do it. You have to have time to make this work, because if you don’t have time to move (cattle) and manage (grazing), there’s no sense in moving forward.



Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

Our mission is to improve and protect Minnesota’s water and soil resources by working in partnership with local organizations and private landowners.