Four Seasons Graziers
by Mary Howell
1723 Wildcat Road
Frankfort, KS 66427-8618
Donn and Kathy Teske,
Dan and Mary Howell, Frankfort
Steve and Ann Suther, Onaga
Alan and Sharon Hubbard,
Loren and Mary Abitz, Wheaton
Jay and Stacy Rezac, Onaga
Bruce and Melanie Abitz,
Armon "JR" and Rosie Bosse,
Ardell, Arlene, and Scott Kufahl,
Eugene and Debbie Berges,
Roger and Caroline Todd,
Leroy "Gene" and Ruth Ensley,
Alan Hubbard (right) explains how grass responds to his grazing system
on a Four Seasons cluster tour.
In December 1993, a group of area livestock producers with a common interest in improving their grazing operations came together and created the Four Seasons Graziers cluster. This group was one of the original Heartland clusters receiving seed money from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation through the Kansas Rural Center. Fourteen farm families from Pottawatomie, Marshall, and Nemaha counties had common interests that could be collectively addressed to enhance each operation's individual needs and personality.
The group's initial goals included exploring available grass and forage options, improving personal grazing operations, and helping members evaluate changes on their farms. Members were also encouraged to attend workshops and other programs to learn new ideas sponsor programs on a topics such as water development, fencing, brush control, whole farm planning, water quality and conservation.
Members were looking to apply new technology to our area and to improve grazing options, beyond the most commonly used system of season long, continuous grazing from May to October. All members were looking for a way to be more sustainable with less dependence on costly inputs, as well as a desire to be more profitable. They were hoping a new system would lengthen the grazing season and increase carrying capacity. Each member's farm or ranch varies due to land used for grain production. Some have large areas of adjoining pastures; others have pasture surrounded by crop ground. The members predominantly raise beef on operations ranging from cow-calf to backgrounding yearlings and stocker feeders.
Although each situation is unique, we as a group are a valuable support network. We help each other brainstorm and evaluate our situations to better plan for individual needs. Our group appreciates the moral support we lend each other when outsiders question our sanity as we think outside the box implementing new ideas.
Education is the most treasured part of this group. We learn so much from each other. Sometimes the simplest little things we see others doing would work great for us too. Several members have attended the Grazing School in Linneus, Missouri. Alan Hubbard, a member from Olsburg, attended Bud Williams' Stock Handling School, then came back and taught the group what he had learned. In addition to tours, several meetings have been held with guest grazing specialists. Alan has worked closely with Kansas State University conducting research comparing conventional grazing to management intensive rotational grazing on the pastures he manages. The research compared economics, labor, and management time.
They found that labor on rotational grazing in minutes per animal is half that of conventional, provided that cattle in conventional systems were checked at least once every five days. Steers accustomed to rotational grazing can be gathered and loaded by two men in two hours under normal conditions, as compared to 300 head of conventionally grazed steers, which took seven or eight men four hours to gather and ship. Members have found that animal behavior in managed grazing situations improves greatly. Cattle soon figure out the system and realize that when called they are going to a place with better grass.
Livestock watering systems are an important part of any managed grazing system. Several members participated in KRC's Clean Water Farm Project implementing water quality protection demonstrations. Alan Hubbard and Dan and Mary Howell also are working with Kansas Biological Survey on a water quality monitoring project on their farms.
Four Season Graziers also worked with other graziers in Kansas to organize the Kansas Graziers Association (KGA). Members Donn Teske and Dan and Mary Howell serve on the KGA board of directors. Several members have attended the first and second winter grazing conferences. In June 2000, Four Seasons Graziers hosted a tour for the KGA with about 60 people from Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri attending. The tour included a Management- intensive Grazing system and water development, eastern gama grass, and the use of geoweb material for stabilizing fragile areas around watering tanks and stream crossings, as well as a windmill powered water pump system to move water to cattle from a pond. A summer 2002 tour is being planned.
Ten of the original cluster members are still very active in the group, and we've added several new members. Members have made many changes on their farms, and are happy with the positive results. Our grazing friends are so willing to share their story and everything they know. They not only tell you what worked well, but also will share the disasters in hopes of helping to prevent another from the same.
There is not enough time or money for each producer to try all possible ideas or make all the mistakes. Therefore, as we join minds and hearts, very positive results happen. We all want to be good stewards of our land and leave it better than we found it. We all want to be more profitable. Every single family of the original fourteen members have at least one if not both spouses working off the farm, a reality of current farm economics. But many of the ideas cluster members have implemented on their farms have helped them become more sustainable and more profitable. The Four Seasons Graziers will continue to pursue education and new ideas. Through the cluster, we have a great network of friends as we work to try new ideas and make our farms and ranches work for us.
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