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Rotational grazing increases herd capacity

Staff writer

Grazing cattle year-round is a goal that David Rziha of Tampa sets for his cattle operation every year. Rotational grazing gives him the chance to run more cattle on fewer acres.

Rziha and his wife, Catarina, sold a pharmacy in Atchison to return to his hometown in 2010. He helped his father, Gerald, on the farm and leased some grassland from him to start a cowherd.

He has purchased more grassland since then. Now, more than six years later, after taking over leases on a late neighbor’s operation, Rziha has 300 head.

“You have to keep growing,” he said.

Rziha got involved in rotational grazing right from the start. An Environmental Quality Incentives Program from the Natural Resource and Conservation Service helped him get started by sharing the cost of dividing a pasture into small plots and installing a water source for each one.

He continued the practice as he acquired more grassland. He has fenced out streams and ponds and removed trees and brush from pastures.

He uses electric fences of high tensile wire to divide pastures into 25-acre paddocks. During the growing season, he runs one group of about 200 cows in a paddock for three days, and then leads them into the next paddock with his pickup truck.

Rziha created a system that includes miles of pipelines and many tire tanks, frost-free waterers, and storage tanks.

Rziha said rotational grazing improves plant diversity because all plants are grazed to the ground before the cows and calves move to the next paddock. That gives the most preferred grass time to re-grow and compete with the less desirable grasses.

“I’ve increased my grass volume every year,” he said.

Rziha uses fence line weaning. His cows will calve in late spring, when the grass is starting to green. When the calves are big enough to wean next fall, they will be moved to a paddock next to the cows. They will remain on grass until they are shipped to market.

Sometimes the calves are sold to specialty markets for grass-fed beef. This year, Rziha said, they will be kept until they weigh 750 pounds or so.

During the winter, calves and cows graze on dormant native grass or in fields that were planted to cover crops. Several such fields were leased from another farmer and grazed from Nov. 15 to the end of January.

“The cover crop benefits the soil, and the lease helps the owner recover some of his costs,” Rziha said.

Cattle are fed a protein supplement of dry distillers grain.

Rziha and his father each have their own operation but they help each other as needed.

The Rzihas have four children ranging in age from 3 to 10. Catarina is a part-time pharmacist. The couple own Kay’s Pharmacy in Herington.

Rziha said when they first returned to Tampa, he was planning to farm full-time. The farm economy was doing well. When the drought years 2011 and 2012 came along, he decided to go back to work as a pharmacist.

“It takes a whole lot of capital to farm,” he said. “That’s the reason I went back to the pharmacy.”

He is happy with his decision to return to farming.

“I’ve always wanted to be a farmer,” he said. “How many people get to come back and do what they wanted? Finances sometimes are an issue, but I’m extremely blessed. You have to know why you are doing it. That’s what keeps you going. It’s not just the money.”

Rziha will be rewarded for his efforts Feb. 18 when he will receive a Grassland Award at the annual Marion County Conservation District banquet.

Last modified Feb. 9, 2017

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