Changing farmland to pasture can boost profits, cattle health and environment
When four generations of farmers before you have raised grains in Kansas, changing crops or moving to cattle can be a big deal. After markets weakened, CJ and Russell Blew of Blew Partnership in Castleton decided change was necessary.
“For us it was strictly an economic issue,” CJ Blew said. “The fact that it’s beneficial to the watershed is a bonus.”
The Blews, who rent 95% of their properties in Barber, Kingman and Reno counties, changed their no-till crop land to pasture. They placed living roots in the ground all year and no longer till.
More than a dozen farmers and ranchers showed up to a Cheney Lake Watershed Field Day at the Blew’s farm to learn what the brothers were doing to change farmland to healthy pasture on Oct. 23 in Albion Township. Since 2015, the Blews have converted more than 5000 acres of irrigated cropland to irrigated grass.
“This will lower inputs and add pounds of beef at a greater value of return to the rancher,” said Howard Miller, outreach coordinator for Cheney Lake Watershed. “It creates less nutrients and herbicides in the runoff, which is good for water quality.”
The field day was held on land that was planted with cool season grasses. The mix, which was planted two years ago, includes alfalfa, brome, fescue, foxtail, orchard grass and wheatgrass. Blew said he was happy with most of the mix. But he is not completely sold on the fescue.
“We have living roots in the ground,” CJ Blew said. “We’re using less herbicide and less fertilizer.”
The Blews are also grazing their cattle in smaller paddocks and moving fences frequently. By systematically decreasing the grazing locations, the Blews have increased their pasture’s yields.
NRCS area officer, Dusty Tracha, who services more than 25 counties in south central and southwestern Kansas, spoke to ranchers during the field day. Tracha helped the Blews brainstorm what plants to use on their pasture. He said it is important to make the mix easy to use and nutritious for the animals.
“Many of you want to get away from your tractor and not further marry yourself to it,” Tracha told the crowd. “If you can make it efficient and still remain sustainable, it can work.”
Pretty Prairie rancher Kevin Graber said he is utilizing several of the practices the Blews are, but he came to the field day to increase his knowledge.
“We don’t have as many species as he does,” Graber said. “We wanted to inquire a little bit about some species we can add.”
Mike Maloney of Kingman said he is considering changing his practices.
“I came here to learn,” he said.
Blew is excited about helping the environment and increasing profits by having less runoff and increasing soil health. He and his brother are experimenting with different grass and legume mixes and lessening both herbicides and nutrients. His grazing days have increased to 240 per year.
Last year, the Blew Partnership was one of seven regional finalists for the Environmental Stewardship Award Program, which is run by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to recognize outstanding land stewards in the cattle industry.
“Long-term, we want to get as many grazing days as possible,” Blew said. “I know we could get to zero supplementation.”