SWCD hosts first Management Intensive Grazing School

Outdoor classroom 

The Iron County Soil and Water Conservation District held its first local Management Intensive Grazing School recently.  Mark Kennedy (in cowboy hat) discussed a cool season grass with some of the attendees.

It was one day in the classroom then another day out in the field with ‘Pasture Management Sticks” to try their hand at “grading” a pasture and determining the the number of tons in the field.

“They” were producers taking part in the Iron County Soil and Water Conservation District’s (SWCD) Management Intensive Grazing School held at the rural Iron County farm owned by Dan and Colleen Jarvis.

Jarvis beautifully laid out acreage is also an example of a “paddock system” which divides acreage into small paddocks among which livestock is rotated.  The practice not only better prevents 

soil erosion, but improves the quality of the pasture.

In one paddock stands a tall man with a cowboy hat and a group of “students.”

Mark Kennedy spent 37 years with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and now owns Kennedy Grassland Service in Reed Spring.

“I’m teaching them how to determine the amount of grass in a pasture at any given time (it’s called scoring the pasture),” he explained. The system, he added, is “size neutral”; that is, it works whether you have 40 acres or 4,000 acres. “It is the same principle - you just scale it up.”

Kennedy also noted that the same principles work regardless of the livestock - cattle, horses, goats and sheep and even geese.

“Yep, I’ve worked with grazing geese,” he said.

The Jarvis property, which earned the owners the designation of Top Grassland Farmers in Missouri in 2012, is a picturesque property where good grazing practices have been implemented.

Four paddocks share a central automatic watering system that operates on gravity and is fed by a distant pond at a higher elevation.  High tensile electric fences are solar panel powered.  Dan said he moves the cattle - he is running 80 head right now - to a different paddock every week.

“Preventing erosion is one of the big issues,” Jarvis said, “and to prevent erosion you must have good grass stands. If you have cattle and set up a rotation grazing system like this you won’t have bare ground.  Conserving your own soil is good for the property and good for the environment.”

Ken Wooten, manager of the Iron County SWCD, added that his office has programs to help with just about every aspect of setting up such a system.

“We can cost-share up to 75 percent of the cost of the water tank,” Wooten said. “We can cost share up to $15,000 on the construction of a pond and we have lots of programs like that to help people manage soil loss. And once they get it set up, they can do a one-time lime and one-time seeding and we can help with the cost of that.”

In order to quality for those programs, a property owner must attend one of these grazing schools - many are held across the state every year.  

“They have had them for years at Mineral Area College,” Wooten said. “I thought it would be great to have one here.”

For more information about cost-share programs available through the Iron County Soil and Water Conservation District contact Ken Wooten at 546-6518.