“T-L pivots are ideal for the cattleman.”
When it comes to center pivot irrigation, Jacob Carter feels a little bit like the stepchild, especially when people find out he’s using the family’s newest pivot to irrigate a pasture used for grazing. Still, Carter will put his increase in beef production up against anybody’s boost in corn yields, especially when you consider today’s beef prices compared to the latter. “People don’t often think about putting a center pivot irrigation system on pasture and using it to produce more beef per acre,” says Carter, who manages Carter Cattle Company based in Lund, Nevada. “But that’s exactly what we’re doing with a T-L pivot purchased from Carter Agri Systems, which we put on 90 acres of meadow just a couple years ago. The grass production has been amazing. I’m looking at 6,000 to 7,000 pounds per acre per year.”
As Carter explains, Carter Cattle Company, which owns about 800 head of Angus cattle, is just one division of Carter- Griffin, Inc., a family enterprise made up of cousins, uncles, etc., that dates back to 1898 when his ancestors moved to the area. Other entities that have since developed include a commercial farming operation that primarily produces dairy quality alfalfa, and Carter Agri Systems, Inc., a farm equipment dealership that offers a number of different tractor and implement brands, as well as seed, farm supplies and support equipment. Ironically, the business even became a dealer for T-L center pivot systems a couple years ago after the family had already fallen in love with the hydraulic-drive units. “T-L pivots are ideal for the cattleman,” Carter says. “There’s nothing for the cows to rub on except the tires and the frame,” he says. “So there’s nothing they can damage. With the hydraulic drive and planetary drives on the wheels, there aren’t any wires, drive shafts or anything else to worry about.”
However, it isn’t just irrigation alone that is responsible for the Carters’ tremendous boost in beef production. For more than two decades, Jacob and his family have practiced a holistic management program that includes an intensive, rotational grazing program. “We’ve actually been working with rotational grazing for about 27 years,” Carter explains. “That includes the 120,000 acres of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lease that we have up in the mountains for fall grazing … plus spring grazing in the valleys. Unfortunately, we’re into the fourth year of a drought, so the cows are basically eating brush until we move them back down here in June and put them on irrigated pasture.”
One of the most successful ventures into intensive grazing, though, is the 90 acres of pasture under the newest T-L pivot. The entire 120 acres that includes the pivot is divided into seven pie- shaped paddocks that consist of clover, alfalfa and cool season grasses. Each has access to a water tank in the center that is filled from the same 500-gallon- per-minute well that feeds the pivot. As a general rule, Carter will put about 200 head in a paddock for about seven days, at which point he will lower the fence and move them into the next paddock, allowing that one to rest and regrow until the cycle starts over again. In the meantime, the pivot continues to water all paddocks except the one currently being grazed.
‘How does the pivot move around a circle divided by seven different cross-fences?’, you might ask. Rather than lowering or moving fences, which would take hours of labor, or building gates for each wheel tower, which would account for hundreds of dollars in expense, Carter turned to Pivotal Fencing Systems, a company in Yuma, Colorado, that builds spring- loaded electric fence posts. “They’re not cheap either,” he says. “But we haven’t found anything that works better in a pivot-irrigated grazing system. As the pivot moves forward, it contacts the wire and literally pushes the fence down and walks over it.” Since each wire is spring tensioned, the post simply lays over as the tower travels forward. As soon as the second tire clears the fence, the post pops back into position.
“Again, T-L pivots are ideally suited to the Pivotal Fencing System,” he adds. “The company sells a deflector that can be added to the bottom of the tower frame to keep the wire from catching on anything as it passes over the fence; but with a T-L, there’s no need for the extra expense because there is nothing exposed. Plus, thanks to the hydraulic drive, the pivot never stops, so there’s less chance of catching the fence,” he adds, noting that the one thing you don’t want to do is reverse the system before the whole tower has cleared the barrier — unless you want a broken wire. “The pivot just glides over the fence without ever stopping and restarting.” Carter says his most recent change to the system has been the incorporation of T-L’s new Precision Point III system, which allows him to set the pivot to automatically reverse at a preset point.
“We try to keep the pivot out of the paddock that the animals are grazing at the time,” he explains. “With the high concentration of animals we put in a paddock, we want to keep it as dry as possible, so they’re not damaging the grass by walking in mud. Plus, the cows tend to move away from the sprinkler, because they don’t like to get wet, and, as a result, end up crowding the fence. With Precision Point, I can set the reverse points wherever we want them … which means we no longer have to worry about checking the pivot or watching the clock so we get there in time to change the direction. That was wearing me out! “Now, if we have the cows in paddock one, for example, we can have it reverse when it gets near the fence in paddock seven and reverse again when it gets to paddock two.”
On the other hand, the newest pivot on the pasture is just one of five T-L pivots the family owns. Two more are on alfalfa fields, another covers a second meadow and the fifth one is on a field of alfalfa and grass that is also divided by electric fences. In this case, though, there are only three paddocks, since the field is both grazed and harvested for winter hay. “I was going to divide that into seven paddocks, too,” he adds. “But I decided I needed it for hay and three paddocks made it easier to cut and bale, yet I can still rotate it.
“We’ve got another pasture I’d like to put a sixth T-L pivot on,” Carter explains. “It’s already flood irrigated, but I’d rather put in a pivot and graze it more intensively, as well. I just have to figure out how to pay for putting a power line underground so it’s not in the way.” Based on the success he’s seen with the most recent pivot, though, the investment just might be worth it … even if it is just used for pasture.