CHATFIELD, Minn. – With the entire herd on pasture now, activity shifts toward the fields at Kappers’ Big Red Barn. The alfalfa is up, oats need planting and fencing needs managing.
“We’re starting to seed oats, so you know this week we spent digging all the fields,” said Lucas Kappers, during a phone interview on May 23. “Then it kind of depends if we have nice weather, but next week we’ll probably get those all seeded.”
In the past, the Kappers planted corn for silage in the spring. However, with the extra work they have added with their on-farm milk processing plant, they decided to rent those acres out to a neighbor. Then at the end of the season they’ll buy the corn back.
“This is the first year we are not planting corn,” said Lucas. “Our neighbor, his land comes up and meets ours, so we're actually renting him a couple of our fields that we used to do hay on.”
Previously, the Kappers corn fields were two fields along the river bottom. They often had issues with excess water and wash out. This year, they easily have a few inches of standing water.
Those two fields might get planted with oats this year and then grazed by the cattle. In the past, they have used winter rye as a cover crop on those fields, but with all this moisture, the plan for those two fields is still up in the air.
The oats that are being planted now are being planted for the forage value and will be harvested early before they head out.
“This year we are going to try to green chop all of our oats again,” he said. “We’ll only let them come up about a foot and then we'll just chop them off.”
Depending on the weather, they plan to start feeding green chopped oats to the cattle in about a month or so.
“If it stays dry enough this weekend, we'll start green shopping all of our alfalfa and then we will start feeding that fresh every day,” he said.
When the Kappers chop their alfalfa, they do not harvest an entire field. Instead, they chop about what they need for feed that day. They go out, chop about two or three wagons full and feed it right to the cattle.
By the time they have made it through all their fields, the alfalfa they started on has grown back up and is ready to chop again.
“The cows love it. It’s got a lot of nutrients in it and it's fairly easy to feed,” he said. “It's one of our favorite things to feed really.”
During the winter, they will feed approximately 20,000 small square bales of hay, so not all of their alfalfa can be green chopped and fed. They will put up about 5,000-6,000 small squares themselves.
“We'll leave two fields that will just be for hay and then, come second or third crop, if we have enough feed, we'll cut all the rest of the alfalfa and bail it,” he said.
The oats they are planting now will help reduce the need for fresh chopped alfalfa later in the summer, allowing them to bale more and purchase less.
Properly managing the pastures the cattle graze also helps reduce feed costs for the Kappers.
“We always like to rotate pastures because really the best part of the grass is in the top fourth chunk of the grass,” said Lucas. “That's where most of the nutrients are.”
To keep the pastures healthy and prevent overgrazing, they turn their cattle out on a different pasture each day. They have one larger pasture where the cattle go at night, after their second milking. Then, they have three smaller pastures that they get rotated through each day.
There is one more pasture that is smaller, about 5-6 acres. That pasture is by a creek and has a lot of trees.
“We'll save that in case it's a really hot day and then we'll let them all out down there,” he said.