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Reclaiming the Land

Reclaiming the Land

When thickets of non-native brush threatened her cattle enterprise, Helen Goebel grabbed some gusto and fought back.

Helen Goebel says scouting pastures was like looking through a keyhole.

"Blackberry, sumac, multiflora rose, dogwood and post oak trees had produced a canopy on 15 percent of the ground," says this Kansas rancher. To make matters worse, pockets of sericea lespedeza contributed to poor grass growth.

Helen Goebel on 4-wheeler monitoring her livestock operation. Over the past few years Goebel's overall stocking rates across her ranch had dropped 20 to 25 percent, a decrease of nine pairs on 340 acres. Based on the range site capacity, not raising those additional calves from birth to a background weight of 800 pounds meant an annual loss of $7,200 on the bottom line.

It was time for an aggressive game plan. Goebel wanted to be able to graze more animals, improve productivity and stabilize her land values.

After a visit to the local Natural Resources Conservation Service's office (NRCS), Goebel had a conservation plan to improve her pastures. Recommendations included a cost-share program on cross-fencing, a grazing rotation plan and prescribed burns with two scheduled aerial herbicide applications for brush management.

The first burn in April 2004 was followed by an aerial application of 1.5 pints of Remedy plus Grazon P +D herbicide applied at the labeled rate of 2 pints per acre. Two more burns followed—one in 2005 and 2007.

"So far we've seen 65 to 70 percent control even though herbicides weren't flown on in 2006 due to a lingering drought," notes John Drew, NRCS District Conservationist.

Drew says the contract, which provided Goebel cost-share funds and incentive payments, will continue through 2009. It includes another burn and herbicide treatment along with prescribed grazing rotations.

One of the challenges as Goebel went through this transition was maintaining the required stocking rates, grazing exclusion cages and strict rotation schedules. But the rancher stayed focused on positive results.

"At first it seems like you're moving the cattle every few days, but then the rotations get much longer and the grass really takes off," she says. "Presently I'm switching the herd three times through four separate paddocks, ranging in size from 73.3 to 110.2 acres, between mid April and the end of October."

Based on current prices for fuel, application fees and herbicides, Drew notes it's a major challenge for ranchers/farmers to deal with brush and noxious weeds.

Helen Goebel with John Drew, NRCS District Conservationist "By tapping into the EQIP program, landowners have the chance to get a leg up on their natural resource concerns," he says. "In order to keep infestations and volunteer trees at a desirable level, the commitment for maintaining and improving rangeland must continue. Otherwise conditions only grow worse and the property isn't suitable for anything."

As Goebel presses ahead in her battle to suppress brush and boost grass vigor, she's grateful for the EQIP program.

"This has been a real catalyst to jump-start the cattle program," Goebel adds. "Watching calves play in those pastures and the satisfaction of improving the land for the next generation is truly rewarding."

Article appeared in Progressive Farmer magazine August 2007. Reprint permission granted by the author to NRCS. Photos rights granted to NRCS by author. Author: Harlen Persinger, 207 N 123rd Street, Milwaukee, WI 53226, 414-771-5828,