Grassland Award: Hamm says caring for grass pays off in short and long run


Gary Hamm is convinced caring for his grassland has improved the efficiency of his cattle-feeding operation.


Courtesy photo

Garry Hamm, 63, is a grassland manager who is seeing more pounds of beef produced per acre because of the practices he used to receive this year?s soil conservation Grassland Award.

Hamm, who lives between Marion and Florence, has pastures on both sides of U.S, Highway 77. He said he tries to use the best grassland management practices whether on his own land or leased land.

These can include brush control or best-timed burning of native grass.

But sometimes it?s easier for Hamm to do the most innovative new practices on his own land, where he?s paying the bill, than it is to sell an idea to a landlord.

For instance, his award recognizes him for his efforts to improve grassland health on 360 acres using the EQIP program.

On 240 acres of this land, Hamm cross-fenced to control the amount of time cattle were allowed to graze according to soil type.

He said soil conservation workers ran the fence in a pattern that zig-zagged, or bent, according to where two different soil types lay.

On roughly the south 90 acres of the pasture, Hamm said the soil was of a lower fertility that caused the grass to grow more poorly and stay shorter. The grass on the other part grew more quickly, larger and, as a consequence, more coarsely.

This, combined with more favorable wind exposure, caused the cattle before the fence was erected to spend more time eating the more tender, poorer grass, he said.

On another part of his pastures, Hamm cross-fenced and installed a pit pond to separate cool-season brome grass from warm-season native grass.

Before dividing the pasture, he said, ?They kept the brome pretty well ate down.?

Now Hamm grazes the brome pretty thoroughly, but at about the time of wheat harvest he turns his calves in on well-grown-out prairie.

In managing his rotations of cross-fenced areas, Hamm recalls the adage of ?old-timers,? that ?you use half and leave half? of the grass to maintain its vigor.

?I want to bring back all the native to be prime grass.?

Hamm also has focused on eradicating brush and trees from pasture land to increase productivity. He has used Tordon RTU and Crossbow herbicides to successfully kill hedge and locust.

Cedars have been a major invasive species, he said, but less problem to get rid of since simply snipping them off below the bottom branch or burning them can get rid of them.

Hamm?s business is grazing around 300 yearling calves annually ?to make heavy feeders out of them.?

?They?re mostly good calves from western Missouri (Gary Christiansen of Durham is his cattle buyer),? he said. ?There?s not enough yearlings to go around in Kansas. Kansas grazes a lot of calves from other states. Over to the east they have a lot of 25- to 30-head cow herds and smaller farms.?

Hamm sells calves in August and September for feedlot finishing, but doesn?t finish any himself.

Besides the pit pond cited in the award information, Hamm has two additional ponds and a well with a windmill. He plans to build another pond this spring.

Hamm said locating more water sources is a good way to encourage cattle ?to spread the grazing around.?

?Besides, you can never have too much water,? he said.

How does Hamm know his conservation efforts have resulted in more beef produced per acre? He can?t produce any spread sheets of statistics to show you.

But Hamm said he knows that he can grow more head of calves on the same land than he used to, and the grass looks better and is more productive at the same time.

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