“Availability and location of water is going to be a huge factor in how land gets split.”
Located in the northwest part of the state, in Greenville, Iowa, and operated by Greg Wood, his wife Lola, and their son Chris, BitterSweet Acres runs 75 head of Angus cows, with a focus on a bull-development program. The second- and third-generation seedstock and hay operation spans 150 acres of pasture, 450 acres of legume and grass hay, and around 40 acres of corn planted in rotation with forage. In 2013, BitterSweet Acres was named Region III Environmental Stewardship Award Winner by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, Dow AgroSciences, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“The first time we split our pasture in half we almost doubled capacity with a 40 percent gain,” Wood says. “We continued to spilt and expand to where we now have seven paddocks.”
Generally, cattle aren’t turned out on grass until the middle of May when paddocks have roughly 6 to 8 inches of growth. Since the region supports cool-season grass, the Woods will hay around 20 percent of their forage so the growth doesn’t get ahead of the cattle.
“I use the take-half, leave-half approach,” he says. The implementation of a rotational-grazing program has helped BitterSweet Acres increase its carrying capacity of pastures by 35 percent since the Woods first started in 1999.
“We’d rather have cattle grazing fresh growth than trampling down taller, older forage,” he explains. “We stockpile forage in one of our paddocks for hay and turn cattle out on it right before we put them on corn stalks in the fall. This has changed our grazing season from May through October, to May through December, as long as there isn’t heavy snowfall.”
The rotational-grazing plan has also helped the family operation weather some tough drought conditions in recent years. When the area was especially dry in 2011 and 2012, Wood estimates the ability to rotate cattle to fresh growing grass saved them close to $15,000 in feed expenses during that time.
Words of advice
“There are a few things to keep in mind before transitioning to a rotational-grazing program,” Wood says. “First there has to be access to water in all the paddocks.”
While the Little Sioux River runs through BitterSweet Acres, the Woods opted to install a solar-powered watering system to cut back on erosion to the river banks.
“Availability and location of water is going to be a huge factor in how land gets split,” he says. According to Wood, producers should experiment splitting pastures with temporary fence so easy adjustments can be made before putting in anything permanent.
“We still use a lot of temporary fence to manage sections we’d like to hay from the ones that are ready to graze,” he says. “A lot of high-tensile electric wire gets strung through our place.”