South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Dan Rasmussen

Jan 2019

The year was 1991. The air was cool for July as I stood on top of a tall butte with my father and Dwayne Breyer. The three of us were looking out onto the ranch that I ran with my father. The pastureland was brown from hot summer winds and sparse rain. For the last two years I had been a part of a new extension program called Bootstraps to assist people like me improve ranch management. Dwayne, a range consultant with Bootstraps, pointed out the large green patches scattered throughout the winter pastures visible on the plain below.

“If I were you fellas,” he said, “I`d be rotating a large herd of yearlings through these pastures about now”. He pointed out the green patches that were warm sea-son grasses; mostly big bluestem and sideoats gramma. Dwayne said the yearlings will seek out those “ice cream” grasses and leave the western wheatgrass alone. That`s a good thing for us since western wheat-grass is a great grass for winter grazing. He said that cows will have to be pretty hungry before they eat big bluestem or little bluestem in the winter when it is dormant. Not that they won`t, but you can get a lot better use of those grasses by grazing in the summer with a fast rotation.

I was in the first Bootstraps class starting in 1990. Dwayne was a hired range consultant doing the Bootstraps follow-up resource inventory. Dwayne stood between my father, Skee, and me on the butte that July day when he recommended implementing a rotational grazing plan on the ranch. There was a long silence after he had made his pitch. Finally, Skee spoke, “Won`t those yearlings hurt our winter pasture? I am afraid they will eat out the good stuff and our winter grass won`t last.”

I looked at both of them and said, “lets try it.”

Dwayne, sensing my enthusiasm and Skee`s reluctance, adeptly shifted into his “be careful” lecture, “I`d suggest you start slow with a small herd”, Dwayne began, “get your feet wet for a couple of years and see how it goes. The worst thing you could do is jump in too fast and have a wreck. That might sour you from making some real progress.”

That first summer we rotated fifty yearlings through six winter pastures. Two years later we were moving 250 yearling steers every two to three weeks through 800 acre pastures. This rotation took us into August when we normally sold the yearlings. We were able to keep the yearling open heifers all summer instead of selling them in the spring.

After the first year of rotating cattle, my father was a huge fan of the practice. He would drive around the ranch evaluating utilization of warm season grasses and coaching me on how long to leave the yearlings in each pasture.

Source: SDGC Newsletter

Join our Mailing list!

Get all latest news & be the first to know about upcoming events.