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Conservation Helps Kentucky Rancher Battle Winter

Brad Steverson uses rotational grazing on his Kentucky farm to help ensure he has food and water for his herd.

Brad Steverson uses rotational grazing on his Kentucky farm to help ensure he has food and water for his herd.

Many people think farmers get to take some time off during the winter, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. For livestock farmers like Brad Steverson, winter months bring significant challenges.

When it’s cold outside, he’s concerned about food, water and shelter for his 80 head of Black Angus. However, those concerns have been minimized recently with the help of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the use of conservation practices.

With technical and financial help from NRCS and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, he implemented a rotational grazing system on his 300-acre cattle ranch in Henry County, Ky.

In this system, large pastures are divided into smaller ones with cross-fencing. This improves forage health and production by resting pastures, which allows for grass to recover and grow faster. Also, as part of a system, a water facility is added to each pasture.

By allowing pastures to rest, Steverson is able to harvest and store more hay. For this winter, he planned ahead for the cold months by putting up about 750 round bales of orchard grass and clover as well as 500 square bales of second cutting orchard grass, clover and alfalfa hay. The fresher hay is for food, and the cattle can use the older hay for bedding to keep warm.

Farmers and ranchers have to find water for cattle, and in some cases, break open frozen ponds in the winter. As part of Steverson’s rotational grazing system, the watering tanks are connected to city water, so he doesn’t have to worry about cattle getting their water from ponds.

“The watering tanks keep me from breaking ice for water while the fencing keeps the cattle from getting to the icy areas,” he said.

Winter poses other challenges, too. Steverson has to monitor for newborn calves and ensure they are sheltered if born when it’s bitterly cold. And, of course, farm equipment seems to break at the worst time, he said. But he stays optimistic.

“There are days I get frustrated, like when the equipment breaks down, the weather doesn’t cooperate, or the cows get out, but in the end I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.

The farm has been in the family for more than 100 years. Steverson grew up watching his grandfather and father work the land and knew he would continue this family farming tradition. Now, he is passing on the tradition to his son.

“It’s all I’ve ever known,” he said. “I’m sure there are more jobs out there where I could make more money, but I doubt they would be as rewarding for me as farming.”

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA service center or

2 Responses to “Conservation Helps Kentucky Rancher Battle Winter”

  1. Pam says:

    This story hurts for me to read it. This story is meant to be a NRCS success, but it sounds like the beginning of a failure. Yes, it is great when NRCS can help install cross-fencing and waterers to promote rotational grazing, but if the District Conservationist does not adequately educate the farmer, then very little is gained in the long run. First of all I read he has 80 angus cows, an average farmer would only need about 250 round bales of hay for those cows, why is he putting up 750 round bales and 500 square bales? Hay is an expensive venture. Second, I read “By allowing pastures to rest, Steverson is able to harvest and store more hay”, it is suppose to be by allowing pastures to rest, the farmer would have more forage for grazing. Yes, when pastures are rested, they produce more forage, this can be utilized for grazing and feeding the microbes. When hay is harvested from a field, it sets that field way back it terms of productivity. I see the farmer does depise his equipment. I am sure his balance sheet would look a whole lot better if he would find ways to cut back on equipment use. I should stop there.

  2. Peter says:

    80 cows eating 25lb of hay per day for 6 months= 180 tons. 750 * 500 lb round bales = 187.5 tons. He’s not that far off.
    Also, in an intensively managed grazing system, early season growth is more than the cows can keep up with, thus some of the pastures are harvested for hay. Later in the season they can be used for pasture.
    This year with the bad winter down south (I’m in Northern NY)I would think that extra hay would be like money in the bank…if he has extra, he can sell it.

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