Cody Nelson cows and bales

Cows begin feeding on a newly-placed big round bale at the Bar N Cattle Company ranch. To see more, visit Cover Crop Kings at Video photo by Cody Nelson.

BELVIEW, Minn. – Not every snowstorm is properly forecast, but the big one for Dec. 26-28 was. Folks talked about snow and cold for a week before it actually happened.

Cody and Melanie Nelson and family drove back from Nebraska after celebrating an early Christmas with relatives. They thought the cows on 120 acres of cover crops just north of Renville needed to come home before the snow arrived.

So, on Monday, Dec. 24, Cody got the majority of the cattle in the corral and started trailering them home.

“We decided to hook up the trailer and go up and get these cows hauled home, and what happened is we got all but 11 cows in the corral,” he said. He went back the day after Christmas and got all of them into the corral and on the trailer…except for one stubborn two-year-old pregnant heifer that didn’t want any part of civilization.

“She wanted absolutely nothing to do with that corral,” he said, although it was the trailer more than the corral that spooked her. She’d previously gone into the corral to eat grass hay – and she’d had no problem staying with the group when the cows/heifers were first moved to the cover crops.

This time, she wouldn’t even come close to the gates.

So, Cody let a calm and quiet cow back onto the cover crops and left with nine head.

A mixture of rain and snow fell in Renville and Redwood counties on Dec. 26-28, with cold temperatures. The weather turned very difficult again on Dec. 31 and into Jan. 1, as New Year revelers were encouraged to stay off icy roads.

Cody put out hay in the corral for several days, and his dad, Alan, offered to help bring the cattle back in using a quarter horse on Jan. 5.

Alan brought an old show cow into the corral to entice the two head to come. He successfully walked them to the corral before the stubborn heifer headed off again. Cody, on foot, walked the calm cow into the corral, tied her up, and then drove off with the empty trailer and pickup.

His dad slowly walked the heifer up again. Once the trailer was gone, she felt a lot more comfortable about walking into the corral.

“It took a couple of hours, but over time we ended up getting them. That’s my dad showing the patience I didn’t have that day,” Cody said.

“They had some tough weather to handle. There were some really cold days and windy days. It taught me a lot about how tough these cattle really are. They looked great. There was still a lot of feed out there yet, but there was definitely a good snow cover across the whole field.”

They did just fine despite the storms, snow and cold.

“It makes me think we baby them a lot more than we need to,” Cody said.

Snowstorms can be cattle killers. Rain followed by snow and cold force cattle to huddle together and fluids can build up around their hearts and in their lungs. During the early October 2013 snowstorm named, “Atlas,” thousands of cattle died in mud and snow conditions.

“You just never know, that’s why you get to that point in the year and we knew that weather was going to get bad and you bring the cows home,” he said.

On 100 acres of managed pastures and woods back at the Nelson ranch, the cows and heifers began bale grazing.

Three big round bales were set in the middle of the wood undergrowth. The cows quickly found the bales and began trampling and breaking the shrub trees. With the right management, the cows will help open up woody areas to allow more grass to develop. This offers more grazing for the future.

“The cows are doing an amazing job of clearing the brush away,” said Cody, who has used bale grazing in the past.

The ease of cattle feeding allowed him time to work on his new business, Soil RX. He was very happy with the number of phone calls he received from potential customers during his first week of business. Specializing in cover crops, Cody serves as a farming coach/consultant to help farmers have success raising these crops in Minnesota’s short growing season.

He added that oftentimes people think they can’t use cover crops or reduced tillage practices because their fields are too wet and cool in the spring. With cover crops, he’s fixed those spots oftentimes faster than the high and dry ground because of the increased water infiltration.

“Those areas will always have something growing early in the spring, like a winter rye-type cover crop, so there is something transpiring the excess moisture ahead of the planting of the cash crop,” he said.

Soil RX charges an annual fee of $4 per acre across whole farms for their consulting services. His goal is finding a way to incorporate cover crops and other soil health principles on the farm to increase net profit per acre. By adding the right cover crop blend, the soil biome should be able to cycle a large amount of nutrients that may be currently unavailable through diverse blends. Tillage costs are often drastically reduced.

“A lot of people say because they are just corn or just row crops, and they don’t need cover crops, or don’t have a way to benefit from cover crops. That is simply not true,” Cody said. Cover crops raised correctly can help improve water infiltration and soil structure, while reducing fuel usage and other high inputs for row crop farmers, he added.

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