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Redwood Falls farmer grazes cattle on public land

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REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — A statewide effort to get more cattle grazing on public land sounds like a good idea to Grant Breitkreutz. 

For seven years, the Redwood Falls beef farmer has grazed some of his herd on private land under management of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This is the second year his cattle will also graze 14 acres of public land owned by the DNR.

The DNR recently told the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association that 57,000 acres in the state have been identified as potentially suited for grazing. The department wants to use grazing to increase the amount of time between prescribed burns while still providing good wildlife habitat.

This is the first coordinated, statewide effort to match up graziers and conservation land, said MSCA executive director Joe Martin, and conditions seem right for it to be successful.

Grazing areas have becoming scarce at a time when people are interested in expanding their beef herds, he said.

"We have very limited grazing land available in the state and it's been shrinking for a variety of reasons, whether it be the government has purchased some of those lands or it be converted for crop acres. It's been an ongoing discussion for several years," said Martin.

Breitkreutz, whose family was the 2010 Redwood County Outstanding Conservationists, was one of the first cattle owners in his area to enter into a grazing agreement with DNR. He likes grazing on public land because it gives his home pastures a rest so the land can produce more feed.

Recently, others have come on board. Four graziers have agreements this year for a combined 150 acres in Brown, Redwood and Renville counties, said the area's wildlife manager Jeff Zajac. Agreements are also available for people who want to make hay off public land in late summer.

Breitkreutz's contract is a cooperative farming agreement. Instead of paying to lease land, he provides a service to the state by clearing trees where his cattle graze. That improves the habitat for small wildlife by removing perches for predatory birds. Lease agreements are also available. 

Approximately 60 of his 180 Red Angus-based cows and their calves graze on about 150 acres off the farm while the rest of his cow-calf herd graze at home. He moves cattle as early as May 20 to June 1 and they stay until June 30.

The cattle are moved to different areas of the fields once they get grasses down to a short height. When they come home, they're put on 30 acres of Italian rye grass that is grown as part of the farm's crop rotation. They graze on rye until October.  

The grazing land is close enough to Breitkreutz's Stoney Creek Farm that he walks cattle there. 

Zajac is open to talking with others interested in grazing agreements. 

Graziers are responsible for fencing and providing a water source if there isn't one already on the site. The cattle owner is liable for any damage the cattle may cause. Details of agreements may vary by area.

Breitkreutz would recommend that other cattle owners consider grazing public land. 

"We haven't really had any problems," he said. "Their cooperative grazing agreements are very, very detailed. You pretty much know all the details when you see the contract. They're very good at explaining what they want and what they don't want."

He and his wife, Dawn, also finish 100 head and offer custom high tensile fence installation. Additionally, they run Circle B Custom Co., with his brother and sister-in-law, Seth and Kelly Breitkreutz. It's a custom round-baling business. 

Interested in grazing public land? Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association is planning regional meetings to start conversations between cattle owners and The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources starting in late May. Tentative locations will be Thief River Falls, Wadena, Morris and Pipestone.