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Grazing Lands

Lancaster Livestock Farmer Enhances Grazing Lands

By Amy O. Maxwell, USDA-NRCS, state public affairs specialist

Looking out behind the home of Lancaster farmer Danny Flynn, rolling green pastures and healthy cattle dot the landscape. But gaze closer among the hills and you may spot a quick moving vehicle with Flynn at the wheel. At first sight, it appears to be a four-wheeler. But, Flynn prefers an old golf cart to maneuver quickly and easily around his acreage. With the recent rains, the golf cart has been a lifesaver, as the vehicle makes its way easily through waterlogged fields. Flynn owns and operates a beef cattle operation on the same site where his father and grandfather also farmed. He has worked with the Lancaster Conservation Partnership to improve 66 acres of grazing lands for his 26 cows. Under a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 319 grant, Flynn received financial and technical cost-share assistance to improve his cattle operation. Administered through the Lancaster Soil and Water Conservation District (LSWCD), Flynn received technical assistance from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist Ann Christie.
“This project is a perfect example of the benefits of partnership when it comes to locally-led conservation,” explained Christie. “NRCS and the conservation district have worked hand in hand to make sure that the customer receives prompt and accurate technical and financial assistance.” The LSWCD chose to design the 319-grant cost-share process much like existing USDA programs. “This allowed for a streamlined process which landowners were already familiar with and it also made it administratively smoother for the conservation partners as well,” said Christie. Flynn receives a maximum cost-share rate of 54 percent, and the overall grant requires a 40 percent local match (support).
The work being done through the 319-grant directly impacts the Catawba Watershed (as Flynn’s farm is in the upper reaches). The practices installed will help control non-point source (NPS) pollution. NPS pollution doesn't come from a single source, or point, such as a sewage treatment plant or an industrial discharge pipe. Rather, it occurs mainly through stormwater runoff. When it rains, runoff from farmland, city streets, construction sites, and suburban lawns, roofs and driveways enters waterways. This runoff often contains harmful substances such as toxins, excess nutrients and sediments. Because Flynn’s operation is located near the top of the watershed, his conservation efforts are particularly beneficial in protecting the entire area.
Some of the practices installed include critical area plantings to control erosion, installation of cross-fencing to facilitate rotational grazing, as well as installation of four watering troughs. Most innovative is the design Flynn chose for his pasture. He cut the acreage into six sections, moving his cattle from plot to plot about every 30 days. Centrally located in the middle of the fields is a working area that allows Flynn to access all the fields. By moving his livestock to fresh paddocks periodically, Flynn provides time for pasture re-growth. His cross-fencing and innovative water delivery devices are important tools. Feed costs decline and animal health improves when animals harvest their own feed in a well-managed rotational grazing system. “Rotational grazing works,” emphasizes Flynn. Flynn also improved the nutrition of his cattle by providing them with a vegetative mix of fescue, summer grass, and clover. “Clover provides excellent nutritional value and produces nitrogen which is important to livestock health,” explained Christie. “The mix also gives them a nice variety and can dilute the effects of fescue poisoning.”
Flynn has also fenced in his ponds and installed filter strips around them. He aerates his soil as well, through a device rented through the LSWCD. In addition, Flynn constructed access ramps to his fenced-in watering ponds, which help control the cow’s access to water. The ramps are constructed with geotextile materials and gravel to cut down on mud and erosion.
Most impressive is the 2,400 feet of straight fence that divides his acreage. Made of woven-wire, the fencing is sturdy enough to contain the livestock, but also keep out deer. Flynn and his cousin spent many weekends installing the fence with an interesting tool design borrowed from another farmer, but enhanced with a few features by Flynn. The large metal device rolled out the fencing evenly and neatly, and saved Flynn time. “As a small, part-time farmer, I have to be innovative with what I do and find ways to save time and frustration, and this wire stretcher is a good example.”
Flynn is presently employed as a mechanic for the local school district but plans to farm full-time when he retires. “I am preparing my land now so that by the time I retire and focus on farming, they will be in top shape,” said Flynn. “Getting this farm revitalized has been my dream, and I’m making progress with the help of the local conservation partnership.”
For more information, contact the Lancaster NRCS office at (803) 286-4455, ext. 3 or the Lancaster Conservation District at 803-286-8135..