This is part three of a rotational grazing series from the March issue of Cow/Calf Producer.

“You’ve got to take care of your land. It’s never perfect and it’s never completely done, so you have to keep improving.” - Jon Bednarski, Sherwood Acres Farm

To put it simply, Sherwood Acres Farm of LaGrange, Ky., has had less than a typical start. Jon Bednarski was a sales and marketing mastermind living in the Louisville area, with a dream of one day getting into production agriculture. It just so happened his daughter, Kristin, won a saddle. Next came a horse, followed by a 50-acre piece of land in 2001. A couple of years later, his wife Sylvia, son Kyle and Kristin gave Bednarski three Belted Galloway cows for Father’s Day.

“The land we had purchased was fallowed ground, grown up with brush and trees. I had 30 years of sales and marketing experience, so I knew I could sell beef, but I needed help raising it,” Bednarski says. “Education was paramount. I immediately began working with my local Extension and NRCS agents.”

Bednarski went on to complete the Master Cattlemen’s Program and Master Grazer Program through his Extension service and began taking steps to prepare his farm for more cattle. Land was cleared, seven paddocks were sectioned off into various sizes on the hilly terrain, and by 2004, Sherwood Acres Farm had its first Belted Galloway stock for a local niche beef market.

“Since we sit on a tributary creek to the Ohio River, which happens to be Louisville’s water supply, we have been very careful from the beginning in not letting our cattle in the creek,” he says. “We built a pond to water cattle and put in automatic watering systems in all of our paddocks.”

What started with a handful of animals has grown into a 50- to 60-head finishing steer operation that spreads across 14 rotational paddocks on 150 acres. The conservation efforts put forth led to Sherwood Acres Farm being named 2014 Region I Environmental Stewardship Award Winner. Since part of the Sherwood Acres Farm branded-beef program is primarily a forage-based finish with some commodity supplementation, steers take close to 20 to 24 months to reach finishing weight.

One way Bednarski has kept up with the expansion of his operation has been by reestablishing different varieties of forage on the farm. Most of the fescue pastures were burned and replaced with orchardgrass and legumes such as clover, leaving enough fescue to winter cattle. This summer and fall, Bednarski plans on working with his local Extension program to establish sorghum-sudangrass and standing corn for grazing to increase his yearly grazing efficiency.   

“One thing that stuck out when I did the Master Grazer program was that you have to be a forage farmer first before you can be a beef farmer,” he says.

If it had to be done over again

“The demand for our beef grew faster than what we anticipated at first, and we overgrazed our land a little,” he says. “Then we had three years of drought. If we went back and did it again, we would have held off and got the farm in better shape before putting cattle on the ground.”

The slope of the land in which Sherwood Acres Farm sits and the combination of heavy clay soils being the primary component of the operation led Bednarski to look for ways to improve the soil composition of the tough land.

“We looked at forages that would do well in those poor soils, and we’re always reusing old hay and manure from our feed pads for our pastures to get the soil back in shape,” he says. “We soil test every couple of years to figure out what is needed to improve our soils.”

For producers looking to create more-successful grazing programs on their operations, Bednarski strongly urges them to seek out their local Extension and NRCS specialists.

“You’ve got to take care of your land,” he says. “It’s never perfect and it’s never completely done, so you have to keep improving.”

Part one: Grass farmer first, beef producer second: Rotate, let it grow, rotate, let it grow…

Part two:  Grass farmer first, beef producer second: The art of grazing

Part three: Grass farmer first, beef producer second: Take-half, leave-half approach