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Published July 26, 2009, 12:00 AM

Grazing tour: Pasture rotation improves cattle management

LAPORTE — Two years ago, Norton and Carol Berg embarked on an experiment in their cow-calf operation – a rotational grazing system.

By: Molly Miron, Bemidji Pioneer

LAPORTE — Two years ago, Norton and Carol Berg embarked on an experiment in their cow-calf operation – a rotational grazing system.

The project, which is a cost-share arrangement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Incentive Conservation Service, divided the farm into 10- to 40-acre paddocks.

The Bergs’ farm was one of five demonstrations Wednesday in Hubbard County during the Giziibii Resource Conservation and Development Association Livestock Grazing Tour for beef and dairy producers. During the tour of the Bergs’ farm, Kevin Erpelding, owner of Bemidji Outdoor Equipment, and Steve Massmann of Titan Equipment in Winger, Minn., demonstrated forage management equipment. The equipment included a tedder to spread out hay to dry and a bale wrapper.

Norton said wrapping the bales in plastic turns the hay into silage, which the cattle find delicious. He said they wrap about half their bales and leave the rest as standard hay.

He said they put in permanent fencing for the rotational grazing paddocks.

“We did old-fashioned barbed wire,” he said. “A lot of post holes to dig.”

They also trenched in 4,000 feet of water line to serve troughs in the paddocks.

The Bergs’ 60 cows, mostly registered red Angus, graze a paddock for about one week. The Bergs then move them to fresh pasture in another paddock. Norton said they have experienced better gain in the cattle and derived more production from the land.

The Bergs use a rotary harrow aerator to keep the soil in the paddocks from compacting.

“One of the plusses with a system like this is the cattle get tamer,” he said. “They’re glad to see us.”

Another positive effect of the new system is the interest their grandson, Ryan Stevens, has shown in the operation. He started helping the Bergs when he was 13 and at 16 now has his own small herd, Carol said.

“What young people need to see is we’re trying new things,” Norton said.

As part of the environmental commitment, the Bergs also have planted 20,000 trees and developed wildlife plots on their 600 acres. The rest is pasture and hay land.

Carol and Norton, both originally from North Dakota, have farmed together since 1968. Norton retired from the Air National Guard and worked as a financial aid officer for Bemidji State University. Carol’s background also is in education.

mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

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