Conservationists to be honored
ADRIAN -- David and Stacy Mente of rural Adrian have been selected as Nobles County's 2011 Conservationists of the Year by the local Soil and Water Conservation District.
The Mentes own a cow-calf operation and have implemented several conservation practices on their land in Section 30, Westside Township. Their recognition is based on a rotational grazing program they established on their land with cost-share assistance from the Nobles SWCD.
"We are slowly turning everything to grass so we can get the cows home," said David Mente, who rents pasture near Kenneth, Wilmont and Beaver Creek for his herd of 90 cows and their calves.
A few years after purchasing their farm in 1999, the Mentes began transitioning the 110 acres of row crop land on their quarter section into rotational grazing pasture instead.
Although he's questioned that decision a few times since, especially with today's high commodity prices for row crops, David has no regrets. With the rotational grazing component, he's noticed an improvement in herd health, particularly in his first-calf heifers.
"Usually they come off grass rather skinny, but because they were eating fresh grass all the time -- not having to search so much -- they did better," he said.
By working with Nobles SWCD, the Mentes developed a pasture filled with both cool and warm season grasses that would serve well for cattle grazing. They planted a mix of big bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, wheat grass, orchard grass, brome and grazing alfalfa and created more than a dozen paddocks of 6 to 8 acres each to rotate the livestock.
Each spring, the Mentes harvest a first cutting from the pasture to be baled for winter feeding. Then, by the end of May or early June, the cattle are turned out on the pasture. The paddocks are used through late September, with cows spending approximately 7 to 10 days in a paddock before being moved to the next one.
"Those cows tell you when it's time to move," David said with a laugh.
Cost-share funding from the SWCD helped pay for seeding, as well as fencing, piping and water structures for the grazing paddocks.
"It sure helped with building materials," David said of the cost-share program, adding that it would have taken him a lot longer to complete the project if he'd had to do it on his own.
The only challenge the Mentes have faced with the rotational grazing program is the lack of available shade in the paddocks. David said he is searching for some type of movable structure that can be used in the future.
The Mentes are considering hosting a grazing tour next summer to showcase their operation.
In addition to working with the SWCD on the rotational grazing project, the Mentes have also cost-shared with the SWCD on several tree plantings.
In 2000, they established a living snow fence, and followed that project up a decade later when a selection of dogwood, honeysuckle, ash, hackleberry and pine trees were planted on the homestead's north side. Those trees will eventually replace an old grove of cottonwoods. Also in 2010, the Mentes planted a shelterbelt along the west side of their building site to help alleviate some of the problems they had with snow drifting in the cattle yards.
Projects that can alleviate moving snow in the winter months will definitely help the Mentes, who also have off-farm jobs. David works full-time in feed additive sales for Pfizer Animal Health, and Stacy works for Sanford Luverne Hospital. Their three children, Dylan, 12, Trevor, 10, and Justin, 8, help with the cattle and also show them in 4-H as members of the Magnolia Juniors in Rock County.
The boys show stock produced on their farm and other 4-H'ers from across the region do the same. Mente Cattle Company raises primarily Maine Anjou, Simmental-Maine and Maine-Angus cattle, and sells its calves as show stock to 4-H'ers. They conduct an annual pasture sale on Labor Day, and the Mentes sell stock as guest consignors in a bred heifer and bull sale in central Iowa each January. During their last pasture sale, they sold stock to buyers in seven states.
As Nobles County's Conservationists of the Year, the Mente family will be recognized during an awards luncheon at the Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation District's annual convention Dec. 6 in Bloomington.