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Ranching Brothers Specialize In Custom Grazing
Steve and Chuck Fettig are 3rd generation North Dakota ranchers who’ve found good success in the livestock business, but not in a conventional way. Unlike many producers who raise and market their own cattle, the Fettigs have more than 1,100 cattle a year on their land through custom grazing contracts. They started the business in 1997 by placing ads in area farm and ranch publications and also created a brochure. Their current customers live more than 100 miles away from the ranch.
  The Fettigs receive 600 to 700 lb. yearlings in early to mid-May and keep them until mid-October, when they return to the owner’s feedlot. Removing the cattle before they graze any re-growth allows grasses time to grow back before winter. This allows the plants time to replenish root systems, which creates more vigorous plants the following year. During the grazing season the heifers gain about 1 ¼ to 1 ¾ lbs. a day and steers gain about 2 lbs a day on a ration of pure grass plus a salt and mineral supplement. Their land includes 900 acres of seeded grass and about 2,400 acres of native range grass.
  Steve Fettig says the brothers used to raise crops on the seeded grassland, but the topsoil on the class 4 and 5 soils was very shallow and subsoil was mostly gravel. Chuck Fettig says managing the grassland for custom grazing has improved the soil, reduced erosion and paid them a decent return for their investment in time and equipment. Their biggest initial investment was crossfencing the rangeland into more than 30 permanent pastures using a single strand of 12 ½ ga. high tensile wire on T posts. Pigtail step in posts and polywire were used to create up to 85 additional smaller paddocks. The Fettigs move some cattle every day on or off the 15-20 acre parcels. They also check water, place salt and mineral and set up new poly wire for the next day’s grazing. The brothers say they’ve also kept 1100 yearlings in 5 acre paddocks for just 5-6 hours. They use their experience and good judgement to determine the number of animals and length of time on the pastures.
  The brothers say when they raised their own cattle they had only 9 pastures and it was easy to overgraze, especially in a dry year. There was some erosion along drainage areas and brush was becoming a problem. After attending a holistic management seminar they were convinced that better management could improve their land and increase production.
  Now one of their goals is to move cattle across pastures so the animals knock down standing litter that shades out new grass seedlings. The cattle also trample weeds so they can’t sprout seeds and reproduce. Steve Fettig says ideally they like to leave 50 percent of the grass as tampled litter and the remaining grass will go to seed, a process that allows soil microbes to build more carbon into the soil. They typically have cattle in a pasture or paddock only once a year, a process they learned from the grazing habits of the historically large herds of buffalo that migrated across the country. Steve Fettig says buffalo would graze one area heavily, then move on and not return to where they were previously. He thinks this natural selection process gives animals a good mixture of mature and new grasses so their diet is balanced between protein and starch.
  Intense grazing management like they’re doing has improved the quality of their land, reduced runoff, reduced fly problems, improved brush management and increased their income with less risk. The other big advantage is the brothers don’t have to manage cattle during harsh winter months or spring calving season, a reduced workload that lets them spend more time with their families.
  The Fettigs charge for animals on a per-head-per-day fee along with a small management charge. The cattle owner provides salt and mineral and is responsible for any medication and veterinary costs.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Steve Fettig, 3792 68th St. SE, Wishek, No. Dak. 58495-9617 (ph 701 452-2813; ssfettig@bektel.com).

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2015 - Volume #39, Issue #3