Chad and Emily Fisher, with their daughters Anna and Clara, had their pastures accepted into NRCS's EQIP program in the summer of 2017. Over the next 3 years they will incorporate into their exsisting cattle operation a new fenced in pond and a rotational grazing system. This system will consist of barbed wire, high tensile hot wire and poly wire which will separate the pastures into multiple paddocks. As they embark on this new and challenging grazing system Chad will continually update this page about their adventure. Around the first of each month check in to see how things are going.
The beginning of the pond building process was a bit unnerving as we quickly discoverred that 3-4" of top soil was far more than we needed to cover the dam! Not only did we have excess from overburden, but we decided we should remove all of the topsoil from the flood area, because who wants a shallow pond where the sun can hit the bottom and cause vegetation to grow? So, we now have 3 piles of topsoil totaling somewhere between 2,000-3,000 cubic yards. We're selling it to cover some of our project overage, but the landscapers aren't carzy about the sand in it. Now what?!!! Anyway we'll either sell it or grade it out somewhere on the pastures where we could use a different contour.
We decided that the pond shouldn't serve just a single purpose to water cattle but instead it should also provide some entertainment value. After all it's going to be 1.5 acres! As you can see in the picture we built up an underwater bench and graveled it so we will have a place to swim. You can also see where we left some tree root balls for fish habitat. I grew up on Truman Lake and spent my childhood fishing and hunting. If we can't fish it, why in the word would we want to spend a bunch of money on a huge water hole?!!!
Next we seeded the dam, watering the area and other bare spots followed by straw mulch. Wouldn't you guess that after weeks of extremely dry weather, and 10 minutes after finishing with the straw blower, the strongest thunderstorm of the year would blow in?!!! The wind blew hard and we got just over an inch of rain in about 30 minutes. I didn't even get 200 yards up the road to the house before I got caught in it! All I could do (while soaking wet) was sit on the front porch, watch it pour and pray for the best. As you can see in this picture, the fescue and oats came up fairly well considering the windblown straw and washouts. All-in-all everything worked out well and we're happy with the result so far.
The watering system was a bit tricky in so many different ways, but we hope the end result will be a viable geothermal system, capable of allowing minimal ice, while not losing pond water to a continuous feed. The basic principle of this system is to collect heat in the empty column 5-6" underground to warm the underside of the tank. There isn't an overflow on this tank to allow a continuous flow so it better work! I've had folks tell me in the coldest of times they've seen a thin curst of ice but never thick enough the cattle couldn't push their nose through. After installation 3" minus rock is to be laid out 8" thick and 6' out from the tank to keep cattle from tampling a mud hole around the tank. They don't like walking on rock so they'll get their drink then get out. In our case, we have a unique situation where the watering area between the fences is very narrow. When I brought this to the attention of NRCS they agreed that we better do something differently because when they come into a narrow watering area they're going to wear a single path into the area from each paddock, then we constantly battle erosion. The solution? Rock the entire watering area! In the coming weeks I will build the fence around the pond. Unfortunately, I cannot build the high tensile hot wire fence until the watering area is fully established and able to handle the traffic. When both fences are finished you'll see just how narrow the watering area is.
Here's an interesting experiment we did this summer. Just before we signed the EQIP contract we realized they would not allow us to kill any fescue to plant alternative forage, so we had 4 acres taken out of the program. Before we terminated the existing vegetation, we put up a temporary poly wire and locked the herd in so they could graze it off. After taking the herd off we built a barbed wire border fence to give us flexibillity in planting and grazing.
The forage of choice as a beginner was pearl millet and it did not disappoint! As late as we planted, we were still able to graze it twice during the part of summer when fescue isn't much better quality than dry hay. Earlier planting, and a shade more rain, and we could've easily grazed it once more. If you've never tried planting forage, I promise your cattle will love it, and so will you when it's time to sell.
Back in September we broadcast into the millet some cereal rye, annual ryegrass, oats, radish, turnip and rapeseed, then turned the cattle onto it while it rained so they could finish the millet and stomp in the seed for us. So far, we've observed that the brassicas have done extremely well in areas of good soil while the grasses look decent in those areas. Nothing looks good in the areas of compaction and clay soils. Our theory is that after the first rain it got hot and dry for an extended period of time causing the seed in those areas to sprout then die due to lack of suffcient moisture. Seems like conditions are never perfect when trying to grow crops but overall, we are pleased. To fill the gaps with grass I will spread another 50 pounds of cereal rye and see what happens. Stay tuned....