Can cattle improve pastures and prairie?
For Ray Bratsch-Prince, working toward the health and sustainability of his pastures is just as important as working toward financial sustainability.
“I want to use my cattle to improve the pasture and do soil improvement,” says Ray, who operates Prairie Cattle Company on about 77 rented acres near Nevada. “I think the system can be scaled up profitably, but to do that you need to have healthy pastures.”
Hear how Ray has expanded his operation without purchasing land, his strategies to improve the land and how he uses cattle as a tool in the process at a Practical Farmers of Iowa pasture walk and field day he is hosting on Thursday, July 24, from 4-6 p.m. near Nevada. The event – “Grazing with More than Profits in Mind” – is free, open to the public and will include dinner after the program. The pasture where the event will take place is located at the intersection of 200th Street and 610th Avenue, about 4.5 miles northwest of Nevada. Look for PFI field day signs.
RSVPs are requested for the meal. Please reply to Lauren Zastrow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-232-5661 by Monday, July 21. The field day is sponsored by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
Attendees will learn how Ray has expanded his operation by renting increasingly more land from neighbors to gain pasture access, with a goal of improving the land. His practices and enterprises include rotationally stocked cattle, native prairie, bees and planned work on a maple grove for tapping and black walnut grove for harvesting. Ray will discuss his pasture and grazing management, which include rotational grazing, bale grazing, fencing and planning his pasture set-ups.
“Part of the grazing I’m trying to do is to graze as late into the season as possible, often into early December, and then bale-graze,” Ray says. “I’m trying to see if nutrition will trump genetics – if I can get any sort of cattle out there and feed them well on pasture through the rotation.”
Ray will also discuss how he uses cattle to manage and maintain native prairie and tree groves, cultivates bees for pollination benefits and he plans to develop maple and black walnut stands on the land. Additional speakers will include Ann and Linn Wilbur, experienced beekeepers who are helping Ray manage his hives.
Ray started farming in 2009 with five heifers on 18 rented acres. Over time, he was able to rent more and more land, fencing it in and returning land that had been set aside in the Conservation Reserve Program to functional pasture. He now grazes about 35 cattle on 77 rented acres, direct-marketing the grass-fed beef with hopes of someday selling grass-finished beef.
Directions to the Bratsch-Prince Farm: From Interstate 35, take exit 116 toward County Road E29 and turn east onto 190th Street/CR E29. After four miles, turn right (south) onto 610th Avenue (a gravel road) for one mile. The pasture is at the intersection of 610th Avenue and 200th Street.