Natural prairie stirs passion

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Farm Forum

In McPherson County, with few trees visible on the horizon, the history of the Great Plains is etched on the countryside by the rugged landscape, evidence of the area’s glacial past.

In fact, there are many more boulders than people. The population density of the county estimates there are only 3 people per square mile. Glen Jakober and his brother Charlie own the land that was purchased by their parents in 1938 about 10 miles west of Leola. Encouraging the natural growth of native grasses has resulted in great satisfaction as the brothers raise quality cattle on this piece of earth, more suited to grass than people.

Glen retired from his job at Avera-St. Lukes in Aberdeen this year. Through the years he’s also raised cattle on the parcels suited best to pasture land. In his spare time, Glen focused on ways to improve the growth of grasses in those pastures.

“My goal was to have the grassland reach its full potential,” Glen said. “As grain farmers made strides through genetic engineering and changes in tillage methods, I had the notion that management of forages might be the next big window of opportunity.”

“I read that the plant does not rejuvenate its root system until it gets headed out, so I wondered ‘what happens if it never has a chance to get headed out?’” Glen said. He learned that within hours of cutting the stem on a plant there is some dying of the roots. It takes intervention to allow the most desirable of plant species to regain their vitality. In pastures, that intervention is to control the grazing. One way to do that is to have high stocking rates for short durations with long periods of rest for those grasses.

To put that into practice, Glen said they have fenced the land they own into 30 paddocks. There are three with less than 10 acres and three that are more than 30 acres. “We rotate the cattle out of the paddock before any new growth begins,” he said. “Stocking levels vary between 2.23 and 3.0 acres per weight animal unit. We use about four paddocks at a time.” Glen estimates that the cattle are moved every 2 to 3 weeks.

The Jakobers have taken other actions to encourage tall blue stem growth and reduce brome grass. Weed control is very important, especially this year when thistles had a banner year.

The brothers have added waterlines to provide access to water in each of the paddocks. With the availability of water, trees were planted. “Now we can graze where we want, when we want, provided we keep the fences in order,” Glen said.

To encourage the growth of alfalfa, Glen mixed several pounds of alfalfa seed in with salt, and he sprinkled soma alfalfa seed on those areas after the cattle were moved to the next paddock.

“I placed the salt a considerable distance from the watering spot. That helped spread the manure to encourage new growth in those spots what were the least fertile because of erosion,” Glen explains. “By broadcasting alfalfa seed in the manure, the hoof action can embed the seed in the soil. The beauty of having the alfalfa interdispersed in the paddocks is the root system which adds fertility to the soil. In a dry year, the alfalfa roots can reach moisture below the root system of the normal grasses. This year is a prime exam