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Rain, wells and grass management help during drought

Cory Eich looks over a solar well in his pastures near Epiphany, S.D. Mercedes Lemke / Forum News Service1 / 3
Cattle look into the area where the solar well is held on Cory Eich's property near Epiphany, S.D. Mercedes Lemke / Forum News Service2 / 3
A cross fence runs down the middle of Cory Eich's pasture near Epiphany, S.D. The cattle were housed on the right side of the fence at the beginning of the summer and were recently transferred to the left side. Mercedes Lemke / Forum News Service3 / 3

EPIPHANY, S.D. — The cows will come home from the pasture on schedule for Cory Eich this year thanks to the recent rains.

"It looks like for us we will be on a normal schedule. The rains played a big difference in that," Eich says. "If it would have stayed drier, we would be looking at moving it up, but right now I don't think that is anything to worry about."

Eich and his wife have been farming near Epiphany for 35 years. The property has been in his family since his great-grandfather homesteaded it in the 1880s.

Through the drought this summer, Eich was thankful for rural water taps and solar wells that he started adding to his pastures nearly 10 years ago. The taps and have made managing cattle easier for Eich, especially during drought seasons like this year.

"Thirty-five years ago, if you would have told me we were going to have rural water taps in a lot of fields, and we didn't even have it at our farm — yeah, what a dream," he says with a laugh. "That's been a huge game-changer."

Running a rural water tap or solar well allows more flexibility as to where water is located within the pasture compared to a traditional dugout. Dugouts tend to be located in lower ground, and when rural water taps and wells are installed, the water can be "put where you need it," Eich says.

Having solar wells and rural water taps this season have saved Eich time hauling water, but they must be checked a minimum of every other day.

"This year we would probably be hauling water, so, in that sense, it's better (with the wells and taps)," Eich says. "You always have to worry about the mechanics and the dugouts. Whereas with rural water, a float might get screwed up and water will be running over. It's pretty rare, we've never had it quit, but you never know when it will."

With the implementation of solar wells and rural water taps in his pastures, he has watched this farming practice make a full circle. Eich remembers digging dugouts for cattle in pastures as a kid with his dad at a time when windmill wells were being pulled out of pastures.

"I'm old enough to remember when we dug a lot of these dugouts and when it was just the greatest thing for my dad, who would say, 'Boy this is nice. We don't have to worry about wells,'" Eich says.

Since rural water taps and solar wells allow for more centralized locations in pastures, over the past few years Eich has added cross fencing throughout his pastures to further conserve the grass.

Cross fencing is when the farmer takes a pasture and divides it using a fence made of either barbed wire or electric fencing. This allows the cattle to only graze on one side of the pasture at a time, giving the pasture's grass time to rejuvenate on the side the cattle are not grazing, Eich explains.

Cross fencing makes the cattle eat grass that wouldn't necessarily be their first choice, Eich says.

"Our goal is to have grass until summer and into harvest."

The cattle are rotated through the pastures every four to six weeks, depending on the conditions of the grass.

"The West River guys have rubbed off on me," Eich says. "When your only commodity is grass, you kind of learn to respect it. It's really a crop that's the most mismanaged crop out there."

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