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Neb. rancher shares lessons from transition of crops to grazing to retirement

published: Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Neb. rancher shares lessons from transition of crops to grazing to retirement

At 72 years-old, Plainview, Neb. farmer Wayne Rasmussen has lived life with an open mind and a willingness to learn. It’s resulted in some unique accomplishments for Rasmussen and his wife Judy.

Raised on a crop farm in eastern Nebraska corn country, Rasmussen raised grain, hogs and a few cattle. He thought that would be his life’s path. Then, the 80’s farm crisis arrived. Rasmussen tells that times were tough, and he attended an Extension program featuring Joel Salatin, who championed grass-based farming. As Rasmussen learned about rotational grazing he says, “That changed the direction I was taking.”

Rasmussen began by cross-fencing one pasture into eight paddocks. He tells, “That changed our carrying capacity by 40%. We went from 55 cows to 90 cows…I saw a real opportunity to go forward.”

He began the process of converting cropland to grassland. After five to six years, he saw the impact and tells of springs developing on upland hills – something the land’s previous owner of 45 years had never seen occur. Rasmussen says, “It reminded me of Allan Savory’s grazing work in Africa when dry spring beds eventually had water.”

For the Rasmussen’s it opened doors. He tells, “Neighbors saw what we were doing on the land and said if you can do this on my pasture, you can rent my ground.” He adds, “When neighbors do that, it’s a compliment and encouraging.”

Rasmussen continued his grazing focus using very high stock densities – moving livestock as much as seven times a day, then allowing ample rest for the land to regenerate. “We’ve healed cow trails and gullies in pastures,” he reports, and adds, “It was fun for me.” Since 2000, their operation has been all grass-based and stocked with a herd of Angus-Red Angus genetics. Windrow grazing from November through February and rye pastures in April extended grazing to nearly year-round.

In 2009, Rasmussen’s life path took another unexpected turn. He fell from a roof and broke his neck. As a Christian, he felt fortunate to survive the accident, and says, “I felt there was some other purpose the Lord wanted me to do.” As a result, Rasmussen collaborated with several friends from around the country and the group established The Grassfed Exchange, a non-profit organization that hosts an annual conference dedicated to bringtogether grazing enthusiasts to share ideas and experiences. The 10th annual conference was held in Rapid City, S.D. in June 2018 with 500 attendees from across the nation, as well as several international attendees. “There are great people who want to take care of the land and be stewards of livestock,” Rasmussen notes. Over the past decade he has also been involved as a board member of the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition.

Additionally, Rasmussen has dabbled in marketing grass-fed beef direct to consumers. “I’d love to be able to develop that more,” he says. He has other dreams as well – trying multi-species grazing, interseeding grasses and forbs into grasslands. “There is much more that can be done on the production in our grasslands. We need to treat pastures as a crop too,” says Rasmussen. 

But, as Rasmussen and his wife settle into their retirement years, they know that these are dreams others may need to pursue. Currently, without a family member planning to return to the family operation, the Rasmussen’s path is changing once again. Efforts to bring non-family members into the operation were tried, but did not come to fruition. Thus, the Rasmussen’s dispersed their cowherd in December, with plans to rent out most of their land. They are hopeful a grandchild may one day return and continue the stewardship they’ve started. Rasmussen also intends to continue sharing his experiences and affinity for grass-based farming through involvement in The Grassfed Exchange and the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition. He wants to help others recognize that an open mind and a willingness to learn are the keys to navigating whatever life path unfolds in front of you.

The 2019 Grassfed Exchange (https://grassfedexchange.com/) will be held April 3-5 in Santa Rosa, Calif. – and Rasmussen will be there. He concludes, “I want to continue to promote the grassfed industry and regenerative agriculture.”

– Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition

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