Kudrna uses conservation ideas to help manage cattle and crops
Randy Kudrna, of Manning, is using several Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Dunn County Soil Conservation District programs to improve his cattle and crop enterprises.
He is using the Nutritional Balancer Program to monitor pasture quality and the nutritional needs of his livestock. Three times during the grazing season, he gathers manure samples to submit to a lab in Texas. The fecal analysis shows him what the cattle are eating, which nutrients they are getting and which nutrients they are missing. “If they’re lacking a lot of protein, I can tell by these tests and then I supplement them, Kudrna says.
Tame grasses generally require less protein supplement, he’s discovered, although results depend on the mix of grasses in the pasture and pasture management practices.
“You can’t graze it to the ground the year before and expect it to perform,” he said.
The Nutrient Balancer Program is one of the enhancements available in the Conservation Stewardship Program.
Kudrna has utilized the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to establish three separate pastures which a portion of his commercial crossbred herd rotates through during the grazing season. While not all his cattle are on a rotational grazing system due to land availability, he’s seen the benefits of pasture management. He used the EQIP to install water wells and pipeline to bring fresh water to tanks in the pastures also. He also utilizes stock ponds as a backup water supply.
As his cattle rotate through the once-over grazing system, they graze the tame grasses early so those grasses can recover in the fall. Native grasses are then grazed later in the year.
In November, his cattle are moved to cover crops for grazing as long as possible into the winter months.
Kudrna started planting cover crops about 15 years ago to ensure a feed supply for his cattle.
“Randy was probably one of the first ones in the county to try cover crops,” said Susan Tuhy, District Conservationist with NRCS in Killdeer. “He hit some bad years when it was dry and the weather wasn’t very favorable so they didn’t turn out very well, but now he is sold on them and he uses them quite a lot.”
“When I saw the potential, I was more impressed with the kind of feed I could get out of them then what I saw in the soil health. I didn’t see a big change in that for awhile. It takes some time,” he said. “Cover crops are a nice alternative for grazing if you need it or hay if you need it. It’s a nice mix in the rotation.”
“The cattle do well on these cover crops,” he said.
This year, he planted 100 acres of a mix of radish, lentils, turnips, peas and millet in an area where fields were becoming compacted. The turnip and radish roots penetrate the soil, helping with compaction, and the peas add more nitrogen to the soil.
Kudrna plants both full-season and fall cover crops, using the plants for grazing in the November. The cattle have developed a taste for the root crops, he said.
“They will have dirty noses, trying to get them out. Once they get a taste for them, they really go for them,” he said.
In his grain fields, Kudrna has also implemented NRCS programs, including starting no-till in the 1980s. Although he doesn’t 100% no-till, he sees the benefits of the practice.
“The biggest benefit is to conserve moisture and that’s our limiting factor in western North Dakota is moisture,” he said, pointing to last year’s drought as a prime example of moisture losses when crops in no-till acreage fared better than crops in conventional tillage.
No-till reduces field erosion and residue keeps the ground from being exposed to wind and heat.
To further control erosion, Kudrna still utilizes waterways among his fields, building diversions around hills and other areas to divert water from fields into waterways.
“You have to maintain those waterways,” he said, adding he uses the waterways where washouts can get extreme.
Kudrna also uses reduced-drift spray tips as another practice he implemented through his CSP enhancement and uses the Dunn County Soil Conservation District to regularly soil test his fields.
Kudrna has also added shelterbelts with weed barrier around his farmstead through an NRCS cost-share program.
NRCS appreciate working with Kudrna. “He’s been easy to work with and he has been receptive to trying new things and he’s a hard worker,” Tuhy said.
And Kudrna appreciates all the expertise and assistance he’s received through NRCS.
“It’s nice to have access to knowledge that can better your operation, and if they don’t have an answer, they can get it,” he said.