Herd expansion has the attention of many cattle producers these days. Yet, Brian Lennemann keeps his focus squarely on his forages.
“Sure, we’d like to expand a little,” the Franklin, Neb., cattleman says. “But we have to have the grass. We won’t expand if it means harming the long-term health of our grass.”
Risking his forage base could have been easy to do through several recent drought years.
“We can run about 7½ to 8 acres of pasture per pair,” Lennemann says. “We were at 10 acres per pair during the drought. We’re just not interested in jeopardizing the future of our pastureland. So we do our best to take care of it.”
Plus, the third-generation rancher says, he doesn’t have the manpower to add a whole lot of head or acres. But he’s not at capacity, either, although he’d like to be when his pastures recover.
Lennemann, his wife, Shelly, and their four young children run about 350 commercial cows on 2,500 acres of grass with his father. They also raise 500 acres to 600 acres of dryland corn, soybeans and hay. The crops go to drylot background steers to 850 pounds to 900 pounds.
“It’s a big challenge to find good grass,” Lennemann says. “We’re fortunate we’re able to lease the grass we do. We want to earn a reputation for taking good care of it.” During the drought, that meant reducing numbers.
“Weed control is a big part of the equation, too,” Lennemann adds. “Weeds pull moisture and choke out grasses; a thicker grass stand helps choke out the weeds.”
They spend 10 days to two weeks early in the season spot-spraying thistle patches from ATVs. Then, as they have for the last several years, Lennemann turns over the spraying duties to Tye Marquardt at Nebraskaland Aviation in Holdrege, Neb., with the goal of treating one-third of his pasture acres each year.
“We may adjust a bit depending on moisture and markets, but we trust Tye and his recommendations. We like to cover all of our acres every three years,” Lennemann says.
Grazing management plays a big role, too, he adds. But not necessarily in the traditional rotational grazing sense.
“Here, our pastures are in sections. We already have plenty of miles of fence to take care of,” Lennemann says. “Grazing management for us means stocking properly. We never want to overgraze, and we try to always leave plenty of grass at the end of the season.”
It’s a program that worked well for the Lennemanns on their native, primarily warm-season big and little bluestem pastures. Turnout occurs around May 1. They wean Sept. 15, and cows move to owned and leased cornstalks Nov. 1. Lennemann usually can hold off supplementing with hay until sometime during February, which will carry the cows until there’s green grass. Then, it’s time to start thinking about weed control.
“We hold off spraying until around Memorial Day or June 1,” Lennemann says. “That’s at the end of thistle season, but it’s great timing for ragweed, and we know a little later spray date helps ensure we’ll get control through the summer.” Other targets include mullein, ironweed and gumweed.
“Weed control is such big help during the dry years,” Lennemann says. “We destocked to protect our grass, but without weed control, we would have had to cut numbers much more. Now we’re in a better position to reap the benefits of this positive cattle market.”
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