Basic grazing management principles are the same, no matter the scale you’re working at, and Bill Slovek and his family do an excellent job of demonstrating that in this 5:38 video. The Slovek family of Philip, South Dakota run about 900 cow-calf pairs on about 20,000 acres of deeded and leased land. They’ve got 67 pastures they rotate through, using grass height as a cue for when it’s time to move the herd on.
Here are the basics to watch for in this video:
Rest is Key
In describing his rotation philosophy Bill says, “A lot of people talk about how long they graze the land. But I think it’s really important how long you rest it. Most of the time 94-95 % of land is being rested here. It really helps in the dry years, when you’re doing things like that, leaving grass and catching snow. You can withstand a drought a whole lot easier.”
As Bo Slovek says, “If you take care of the land, the land takes care of the cattle and it makes it easier for you.” By leaving plenty of ground cover, they don’t lose moisture to evaporation, and rain soaks in and doesn’t run off. They have good forage, cows and calves are healthier, and so is wildlife. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Want more on rest? Here’s a great two-part series:
Water is Critical
If a pasture doesn’t have water, then it’s not really a usable pasture. At the scale the Sloveks work, that means almost 30 miles of pipeline and 120 tire tanks. If you’re doing the math, you’ll see that means about 2 tanks per pasture, and that also gives you an idea of the size of their pastures.
A watering system like the Slovek’s can be expensive. Fortunately, graziers can find technical and financial assistance from programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and local Conservation Districts.
On Pasture also has some great ideas for you. You can browse watering systems in our archives.
Supplement Placement and Kind
Should your supplement be near your water source? NO! Putting it away from the water helps distribute cattle through the pasture and ensures that one spot won’t get over-used.
And what kind of supplement should you use? The Slovek’s let the grass tell them. They test pasture forage to find out what animals are lacking and then have a supplement mixed to fit. Using a targeted approach like this ensures that animals get what they need and reduces the cost of unnecessary inputs.
Here’s a little more on an easy mineral program.
Join Your Local Grazing Group
How did Bill Slovek figure out what to do on his place? “Of all the things we’re doing here, I think 90% of them an idea came from either being on the grasslands coalition board or going on a tour or an event they sponsor,” he says. “I also try to encourage other people to go to them. It’s so cheap to join…and the things you learn and connections you make – it’s money well spent.”
While I’m thrilled that you’re here reading On Pasture, having a support group makes it so much easier to implement new practices and explore innovations. And by support group, I don’t mean those folks you chat with on Facebook. I mean your neighbors and fellow graziers who are working in similar systems and can come over to visit, maybe lend a hand, or just an ear.
Enjoy this visit with the Slovek family. Then let me know the lessons you learned from them!