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Quick turns

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:03pm

Nebraska's Sandhills region is the largest contiguous area of nonactive, grass-covered sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere. Considered perfect cow country, it still requires extra stewardship over the long term. Conventional grass-management wisdom calls for grazing Sandhills pasture hills during the summer and haying wet meadows for winter forage.

Newport, Nebraska, rancher Chad Peterson and wife Jennifer are in tune with the Sandhills. Continuing a family ranching legacy, they graze 900 to 1,100 cow-calf pairs and yearlings on their 9,200-acre ranch. But Peterson has turned conventional wisdom on its ear. He runs an ultra-high stocking density of over 900 animals on a single acre of wet meadows in the summer for an extremely short period. Then he grazes stockpiled grass in the more fragile high country in the winter.

A process of complete rest and recovery after heavy animal impact has improved forage utilization. The process produces more beef per acre and nearly year-round grazing with scant hay feeding in a fairly harsh climate.

Nebraska's Sandhills region is the largest contiguous area of nonactive, grass-covered sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere. Considered perfect cow country, it still requires extra stewardship over the long term. Conventional grass-management wisdom calls for grazing Sandhills pasture hills during the summer and haying wet meadows for winter forage.

"When a plant is bitten and eaten, it has to start a recovery period," says Kearney, Nebraska, grazing consultant Bob Scriven. "Then the plant sends more tillers and grows more foliage and seeds to survive. The consumed part of the plant is digested by the animal, and around 80% of the consumed nutrients are returned to the soil in manure and urine."

"Water must be available most of the time," says Scriven. "It's also important to be present to move the livestock at the appropriate time."

"Our production goals are to make a profit, to be able to take care of the land, and have something here for the family," Peterson says.

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