RIVERSIDE --- As Kirk Thomann checks a water tank, several cows mill around, waiting for a cold drink.
Behind Thomann are acres of green grass. To his right are acres of brown grass.
Next spring, everything on all sides of this water tank will be green.
Thomann, who farms near here in Washington County, converted part of his CRP ground into pasture last fall. This autumn, the rest of it will be switched over so it will be ready for spring grazing.
S“We had it in CRP for 10 years and switched it over last October,” he says. “I wanted to have some more cows, and this was the way to go.
“We tilled up half of it in the fall and reseeded it. We’ll tear up the rest in a few weeks.”
Thomann runs 40 Red Angus cows on the pasture, which totals 80 acres. The pasture also includes new perimeter fence.
He primarily seeded alfalfa and clover along with timothy and endophyte-free fescue.
Money from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program was used to install close to a mile of water line.
Thomann set up 14 paddocks in his system with each paddock consisting of roughly four acres.
“I hope to get two to three days of grazing per paddock before I move them,” he says. “I want to have at least 30 days of rest on each paddock for some regrowth.”
He uses single-strand electrical wire to form his paddocks, adding the wire is high enough for small calves to sneak under.
While some producers will choose to establish a new system, most will go ahead and use the old CRP ground for grazing, says Steve Barnhart, Extension forage specialist at Iowa State University.
If they go that route, he says weed control must be a priority.
“The weed issue is a real challenge, especially if you want to establish legumes in the pasture,” Barnhart says.
“Grazing can control a lot of it, but the pastures could have future weed problems if it’s not managed properly.”
He cites musk thistle as a weed that is difficult to control.
Pasture fertility also must be considered. Barnhart suggests testing the soil for nutrient levels.
“Nitrogen is always going to be needed, but the P and K levels should be similar to what they were when the ground was put into CRP,” he says.
“If those levels were low when you put it in 20 years ago, they will still be low.”
Barnhart says frequent mowing or clipping also can help reduce weeds. He says weeds like thistles need to be clipped two or three times after the initial clipping to destroy their root systems.
If most management methods do not solve the issue, producers could use herbicides. Barnhart says most pasture herbicides will remove legumes, so spot spraying is recommended.
He says producers, who choose to tear up CRP and start fresh, need to ensure new grass is given time to mature.
“It takes a year or so for new seedings to reach their full potential, so make sure you don’t overgraze them,” Barnhart says.
“Certainly, a good rotational-grazing system is a way to make sure new pastures stay in good condition.”
Thomann said the first summer was a test for his new pasture.
“We had a lot of water early on, then that was shut off most of the rest of the summer,” he says. “It was looking rough in some spots, but it’s pretty lush now.”
He adds it took some time to complete the conversion process, but Thomann believes it was time well spent.
“I had a few cows before on rented pasture, but I always wanted more cows than what I had,” he says.
“This was my chance to expand a little, and so far it has worked out pretty well.”