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Fences Grow More Grass


Shannon Carmichael thought her husband Bart was crazy when he started fencing the ranch first to half sections and then to quarter sections. “This is not how things are supposed to be done. We ride out, we gather, we calve cattle.” But as the pasture sizes began shrinking, she realized that there was a lot of reward in what was happening. Cattle were growing, there was more interaction with the family and things began to run more smoothly.

Bart’s first inspiration for changing from the set stock system his grandfather has used was economic. He’d heard he could run twice as many cattle on the same amount of land. But it was the changes in the grass that encouraged him to move into full fledged grass management. During the 2012 drought, their oldest son, Kenny, fenced every quarter section with temporary polywire fence. “They were moving fence all the time,” says Bart. The grass responded and Bart saw that they had a lot more regrowth than their neighbors.

“From there we jumped into adusting how we were doing it,” says Bart. “We started building high tensile fence and splitting the quarters into thirds.” The results were more grass, and more cattle as well, and the animals helped create a diverse ecosystem with their grazing, trampling hooves, manure and urea.

With time they even healed the place on the south end of the ranch known as “Cactus Patch” because that’s all that was there. But with time, more fencing, and more cattle, the grass began taking over the cactus. That’s when Shannon said, “Alright, we can build another fence.” She says it took time, patience and hard work. But the result was worth it.

In this 7:04 video, you’ll visit the ranch and learn more about how the Carmichaels manage, including why they hold on to some of the ranch management traditions started by Bart’s grandfather.

What Can You Do With This?

One of the first recommendations Bart has for us is, “Just split something in half and see what happens.”

If you’re looking for resources to do this, Bart suggests contacting your local Grazing organization. “The South Dakota Grassland Coalition would be the perfect place to start. They have so many education opportunities and the mentorship list and a lot of people who are willing and wanting to help you and teach you and to broaden your horizons.”

Find a Grazing Organization Near You!

We are growing a list of organizations that can help you grow as a grazier. Click here to check it out. To encourage folks to join these organizations, we’re providing discounts to their members and staff.