Thanks to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service staff in Montana for this helpful article!
The last thing most people think about when they see a field full of grazing cattle is what is going on underneath those hooves. Producer Kalyn Bohle has given it some thought. Bohle has land six miles southwest of Plevna, Mont. There, with his wife and three kids, he raises 150 head of black Angus cows. And yes, he thinks about the soil surface and what lies beneath it. “The little herd that’s in the soil – they’ve gotta eat too,” says Bohle.
To increase the nutrients in the soil for microorganisms—“the little herd,” as Bohle calls them, Bohle has implemented a management system that includes intensive grazing, bale grazing, and growing cover crops.
Bohle started bale grazing three years ago, after learning about its benefits from other producers. “It’s a good way to get nutrients back into the soil and save time and money,” says Bohle. He was convinced that he made the right decision when he noticed in the spring, following his first season of bale grazing, that the vegetation where the bale sat was more productive than the vegetation surrounding it.
Bohle provides the same amount of hay for the seven days of the week that he would if he were feeding daily. On the sixth and seventh days of the week, the hay is typically gone and the cows go out and graze in the pasture. Bohle says the cows are very content, when the bale is there they eat from it, and when it’s not they are just fine to graze in the field. Even during bad weather, Bohle sticks to the bale grazing plan. He said during the last blizzard, the cows took shelter, still managed to graze, and had plenty of hay left to eat when the storm was over.
Bohle puts his bales on hard pan spots, clay pan spots, unproductive Conservation Reserve Program land, and anywhere he thinks the soil could benefit. He says, “It (bale grazing) makes a huge difference, but you have to be careful about what you feed, as far as introducing new plants.”
Bohle also started intensive grazing three years ago. He divides his land into smaller acres with the use of permanent and temporary electric fences, and he runs all of his cows together. “We’re trying to get more herd impact into things,” says Bohle. With more cows in one area, it’s easier for Bohle to keep track of his herd, and the pasture rotations are faster with longer recovery periods for the grazed pastures.
Bohle says when considering intensive grazing, you have to make sure there is adequate water in the area. He says to be mindful of where water sites are and what the topography looks like for placing fences. “Where they are and where they should be might be two different things,” says Bohle.
In addition to his grazing management, Bohle has been planting cover crops for the last five years. He started growing cover crops as an additional way to restore nutrients in the soil on his land. Now he hopes to be able to graze his cows longer into the winter by letting them into the cover crop pastures. He says that his combination of intensive and bale grazing, along with growing cover crops, has been successful. His schedule is flexible; he doesn’t have to worry about runoff and doesn’t have to start his tractor during the week, saving on a lot of wear and tear and fuel costs.
When asked what he likes best about his management system, he says, “It’s convenient, good for the soil, and if I could go back 20 years, I’d go back and do it earlier.”
In this 15 minute video, Bohle talks more about his operation, including the logistics of bale grazing, and his intensive grazing management and water setup. Enjoy!