S.D. Rancher Shares His Success Story
By Kara Pugsley for the SD Soil Health Coalition
Grazing to maintain the health of native grasses is an important strategy for ranchers in South Dakota, and for Charlie Totton, learning how to manage his grasslands has been a key tool which has allowed him to improve the health of his soil and operation as a whole. Totton ranches in Brule County with his wife Tanya. Their seed stock/cow calf operation is located 8 miles north of Chamberlain, SD. They’ve been ranching there since the fall of 1997.
With their ranch located just 3 miles west of the Missouri river – they have a total of 4,000 acres of land with variations between flat and steep areas. Totton has figured out how to use each type of land to his advantage. “Some of that poor land was a long way away from water, so we moved it into dormant season grazing – when cows don’t need as much water in the cooler part of the year. We use the rough land for dormant grazing and the best land we utilize during the growing season. That does two things for us: we can get the most cows in the fewest acres, and vice versa, the most acres grow uninterrupted during the heart of the growing season.”
Several years ago, Totton attended the South Dakota Grazing School, a workshop hosted by the SD Grassland Coalition. He has also hosted the workshop at his ranch. “Since I went to the grazing school, I went to much more intense grazing on our ranch,” he explains.
Mob Grazing: Allowing for Uninterrupted Growth of Grasslands
Totton practices mob grazing on his ranch of 4,000 acres, a practice where he concentrates grazing during June, July and August on just 400 of his total acres. “That’s only 10% of our ranch, but during this time period it benefits the whole ranch by keeping the cows off of the majority of acres during the growing season. By bunching them up like that, we have a lot of grass that’s not getting interrupted – it’s growing at its highest potential.”
His definition of the term mob grazing is “if you move your cows at least once a day or more and you’re taking 75% of the forage off the land.”
Totton does go out and move the fence every day, but he says it’s well worth the extra labor. “We have a lot more winter grazing because we use fewer acres in the summer time. I don’t have to put up as much hay.”
Totton’s main priority has always been to protect the native species of grasses. “The reason we’re trying to protect the warm season species is that they are what get grazed out with season-long grazing,” he explains. “Your more productive warm season grasses will get shorter and shorter if you don’t manage them properly.”