What you can learn from USA's managed intensive grazing

Minnesota beef producers of Stoney Creek Farm reaping the benefits of managed intensive grazing

Beef
Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz with their daughter Karlie and their granddaughter.

Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz with their daughter Karlie and their granddaughter.

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Minnesota beef producers are doubling their carrying capacity and producing four to six times more feed without any synthetic inputs.

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THE regeneration agriculture movement sweeping through Australia is gaining just as much hype across the world in America, with a much more promising season presenting rapid results.

Following high rainfall activity, some Minnesota based beef producers are doubling their carrying capacity and producing four to six times more feed without any synthetic inputs.

It was about 20 years ago when Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz of Stoney Creek Farm in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, began experimenting with alternate management systems on their 520 hectare property.

As pioneers of managed intensive grazingsystems for cattle in the state, the Breitkrutz now run a Red Angus cross herd of about 150 cow and calf pairs with an additional 750 head of cattle in custom feeding.

About 180 hectares is permanent pasture land with 250 acres of no-till corn, soybean and wheat crops and 50 acres of alfafa.

Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz, Redwood Falls, Minnesota, USA.

Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz, Redwood Falls, Minnesota, USA.

They were traditionally set stocked grazing and would keep their cattle in paddocks for a year, or until the grass was gone. But, with grants for new fencing and watering, they were able to double their carrying capacity on a trial area of land.

Ms Breitkreutz calculates their feed capacity, and paddocks are subsequently created to give animals access to a set amount of forage.

Now, their animals only graze about 30 per cent of the pasture, trampling the other 70 per cent to the ground to add microbes and biology into the soil. Cattle won't return to the same paddock for 45 to 60 days.

"At the moment we are running four to five acres and there is 200 head of cattle," Mr Breitkreutz said.

The family run a Red Angus cross herd of about 150 cow and calf pairs with another 750 head in a custom feeding setup. They are protected with a donkey.

The family run a Red Angus cross herd of about 150 cow and calf pairs with another 750 head in a custom feeding setup. They are protected with a donkey.

In addition to the extra feed growth, the family have also increased their grass species without additional applications.

"Originally there was only three species of grass in this pasture," Mr Breitkreutz said.

"Through our grazing management, we have increased it to over 30 species of grass.

"We would have row cropped corn, soybean and wheat rotation and we collected crop insurance seven out of 10 years from this paddock.

Karlie and her daughter with one of their protection donkeys.

Karlie and her daughter with one of their protection donkeys.

"We gave up on it. We just planted it to alfalfa and we thought we will take our two cuttings a year, get what we get and we will leave it at that.

"It's better to find a crop than to not harvest a crop, and then we figured out how to rotational graze the cows.

"This is now one of our most profitable most productive pieces of ground on this farm."

A protection donkey.

A protection donkey.

Rain hasn't been a shortage in the area, but rather the opposite. In the last few years, during the growing season, the Breitkreutz recorded 36 inches, 41 inches and 44 inches. Already in this growing season their rainfall tally was at 26 inches.

By performing regular testing on the quality levels of their pasture and crops along with soil samples, the management change has rapidly improved their organic matter and allowed them to better store the increased rainfall.

An image of a Stoney Creek Farm paddock on the right after 1.3 inches of rain fell in three hours and 15 mins. A neighbouring paddock is pictured on the left that was used under conventional farming, tillage and no cover cropping management.

An image of a Stoney Creek Farm paddock on the right after 1.3 inches of rain fell in three hours and 15 mins. A neighbouring paddock is pictured on the left that was used under conventional farming, tillage and no cover cropping management.

"We have several pieces of land that we have taken from 1.6-1.8 organic matter all the way up to 4.6-4.8 per cent organic matter in less than 10 years," Mr Breitkrutz said.

"We do have pieces of land we have documented one per cent organic matter increase in two years.

"We are sequestering carbon, holding it in the soil, which is improving our water infiltration rates and that's another one of our measurement tools.

Grant Breitkreutz shows the amount of cover in some of their paddocks.

Grant Breitkreutz shows the amount of cover in some of their paddocks.

"On our corn and soybean fields and small green fields we are at between 8 and 12 inches of water infiltration per hour. We can step right across the fence to our neighbours' lands and they are less than one."

The property has also been no-till for the last nine years. Cover crops have been a valuable addition to their business with three crop rotations a year.

"We always try to use three grasses, three legumes and three forages (in our mix)," Mr Breitkreutz said.

"We want species out there that will gather and hold those nutrients.

Grant Breitkreutz in one of their crops.

Grant Breitkreutz in one of their crops.

"We try to plant 14 to 18 species mixed to wean our calves on. We've learned that when we bring our calves home from where they are out grazing all summer long, a lot of our neighbours will wean a calf into a feed bunk and different water supply.

"We try to keep our calves still grazing, maybe in a different place, but they have still got the same water supply and they are grazing something that is high in nutrition."

The family's management style was beginning to gain attention in America with 50 producers set to attend a three-day academy at the property during the time of this visit.

Lucy Kinbacher travelled to Minnesota as part of the NSW Farmwriters Association and Qld Rural Press Club journalism awards.

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