One really cool aspect of the ranch is that they are not afraid to try new things when it comes to getting rid of pesky weeds. One thing we’ve been working on is training some heifers to eat weeds out in the pasture. It starts by feeding them a food they really know and like in small black barrels. There is one barrel for every three cows which makes them curious and creates competition between them to see what’s in the barrel. Every morning we put a new treat in the barrels. We use something different every day so they get used to eating different things that are good for them. After about five days we mix weeds in with one of the treats they have had before. They are more likely to try the weeds if there is a familiar smell or taste with them. The next day we will only put the weeds in the barrels. By this time they should be used to trying different foods and should be willing to eat the weeds. The goal is that they will realize the weeds are a good source of food and will eat them in the pastures. One of the weeds we are trying to get them to eat is Canada Thistle.
One other thing the ranch has done to fight weeds is by using “biological control”. This means introducing animals or insects that naturally eat a weed as part of their diet to an area that has a lot of the weed you want to get rid of. The weed of concern here is Leafy Spurge, so they have introduced flea beetles to eat it. These beetles are seen for a few weeks in the summer when they come out of the ground to mate. Then they lay their eggs, and when the eggs hatch the larvae eat the roots of the leafy spurge. They are seeing results on the ranch, which is great. This means that chemicals are used to control the leafy spurge which cuts costs and is better for the environment.
Hi, my name is Kelly and I am the new intern on the ranch. I will be a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the fall and I am studying soil and land management. I am from Colby which is in central Wisconsin. When describing how its spelled we like to tell people its “like the cheese”. I decided to intern on the ranch because I want to learn more about grazing systems and my school doesn’t offer any classes in that area. So I figured hands on experience would be the best way to gain more knowledge about grazing cattle.
I grew up on a 45 cow dairy farm which sparked my interest in natural resources. Initially I was a forestry major but decided that I would rather plant more trees than to tell people to cut theirs. That led me to becoming a soils major because it was the best major option at my school that would allow me to get a job in agriculture, which is what I realized I wanted to do after a year of being away from the farm while I was at college.
I have been a student trainee with the Iowa NRCS the past two summers, and I really enjoyed it. I especially liked surveying and going out with the soil scientist. I would love to be able to be a grazing specialist which is why I came to the ranch. I am hoping to gain experience that I couldn’t gain from a classroom.
My trip here was uneventful until I turned on the first gravel road. This particular road was a little light on the gravel and they had just gotten rain the night before. About four miles into it I got stuck and had to call for help. But I didn’t have any cell signal where I got stuck so I was going to try walking the remaining 4.5 miles to the ranch. Luckily for me once I climbed to the top of the hill I gained service and got a hold of Luke who told me that no one was home so I would have to wait a while before someone came to get me. While I was waiting I looked over the hill and saw a sign that said “Minimum Maintenance, Travel at Your Own Risk”. Why wasn’t that posted at the other end of the road? But I got pulled out and everything turned out just fine.
This week has been full of firsts for me. I cleaned and oiled my first saddle, built and took down my first movable fence (which was pretty crooked but Luke was nice enough not to mention it too much), gave vaccines to the calves when we worked cattle, helped sort cows (which is harder than it looks), learned to drive the lawn mower and skid steer, and fished with a bamboo pole and caught two small bluegills. Every day is a new learning experience, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer being the same way.