A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

No rest for weary farmers during cold winter months; conservation programs offer support

 Henry County  farmer Brad Steverson keeps busy rotating his herd of cattle during the colder months. (Photo from USDA)

Henry County farmer Brad Steverson keeps busy rotating his herd of cattle during the colder months. (Photo from USDA)

By Christy Morgan
Special to KyForward
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 Kentuckian 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.
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 www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.
Christy Morgan is a management analyst for the Kentucky Natural Resources Conservation Service office. This article first appeared here on the USDA’s blog.

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