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Transforming Agriculture: Candice Mizera's Journey Towards Resilient Grazing Practices

On this week’s “Resilience Rodeo”, Candice Mizera shares her successes and failures in improving her grazing and cropland’s resiliency through goal setting and being flexible.

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On the Mizera/Olson family operation near McLaughlin, SD, implementing rotational grazing has been a central element to Candice and her husband’s adoption of regenerative agriculture. Candice noticed quickly how rotating animals offered the land one brief stretch of intended disruption and she was amazed to watch the land respond; seeing big bluestem come into the pastures, knocking back Kentucky bluegrass. When asked to speak on resistance to regenerative practices, Candice understands the skepticism and hesitation. Her father was skeptical when she began to install more fences and waterlines, but it’s gratifying now that he can see the results; green grass, even in drought. To Candice, resiliency means flexibility, profitability, and resourcefulness. Capturing and using rainfall, recycling the nutrients made available by cover crops, and utilizing adaptive grazing has kept her root systems intact. She also understands that resiliency in their operation is a collaborative effort: their family, their crew, their faith, and their willingness to seek opportunities to learn and try new things all play a critical role in helping restore soil health to improve the operation for the future

Candice Mizera
Candice Mizera


1)    What is the one thing that you have done that's been the most important to the success of your operation?


Well, I guess my husband would say definitely getting married. And that's probably partially true for the most part. We've complemented each other more than we strain each other, I guess. So, we've gotten to grow the operation because of that, that we work together and we both kind of have different goals and strengths, so we've complemented each other that way. Bob worked in construction before we got married and worked 20-some years of construction as well as farming, and I’ve had three or four part time jobs to make ends meet when we we’re starting out.


We just kept plugging away or finding ways to pay the bills and figure out what we can do to improve the operations, efficiencies, and get more cattle out on the land to justify having more cows. When the cropland makes a lot more of a profit on a lot less acres, it's tough to justify spending 60% of your time on the cows when they're only 30% of the income. So, identifying those things, really looking hard at the numbers and what we needed to do to make each other happy, grow our operation, make it resilient economically, and improve and restore the soil so that it would pay us back were really important things for us.


2)    Can you recall a moment or time when the light bulb went on for you to change the way you were grazing?


I would say when I realized that our pasture was full of curlycup gumweed and seeing bare soil. I found out what curlycup gumweed was and that it's indicative of overgrazing and overuse. I would say that that was kind of a lightning bolt moment where we knew we just had to do something different.


3)    What surprised you the most when you changed the way you were grazing?


I would say the speed at which the ground recovers, in the pastures that we graze really hard early in the spring to knock back the Kentucky bluegrass, we saw the big bluestem come in that same year and fill up the pastures. It was amazing and really rewarding to see that kind of response in just a one-time treatment and a little sacrifice. It seems like the more intense and shorter the duration, the better the response.


4)    What would you say is the biggest misconception people have who are not managing their grazing systems for resiliency and soil health?


I'm not sure. I guess if they don't think it's worth the effort or think it's too much money or too much time or labor. I know that was where my dad was coming from when I told him what I wanted to do on his place. When we bought his cows and started implementing more fences and water lines, he thought we were crazy, but we knew that we had to contain the cows to a smaller area for a shorter time. That was the only way we could really do it with [minimal] labor. Instead of doing electric fences and hauling water, we needed to build the infrastructure, so we put in permanent cross-fences, permanent waterlines, and perimeter-fenced fields.


Just one person to go move cows every Monday morning was the goal, so that it was simple and on the schedule, and we just had to go do it. There was a goal, and it was an improvement. But then you realize, well, you need to be a little more flexible. They either need to go sooner or stay a little longer. There is a lot to learn, but it's been really rewarding to see [Dad] go out to the pastures now and see how much grass is left even in the middle of drought. And having more cows out there than he ever had*. That’s been really great to see and I’m glad he’s been around to get to see the improvements.


*The Mizera’s now have more than doubled their stocking capacity in the last 15 years.


5)    Is there something that you'd still like to do that you haven't yet to improve your soil health or your grazing system?


Yes. We'd like to increase diversity in crop rotations, try poly cropping, and improve and beef up our perimeter fences, and I'd like to bring in some sheep and do some multi-species grazing. We'd also like to break down our current pastures even more with a temporary electric fence and want to have a grazer hired that just moves the cows. Like, even if we just take the 160-acre pastures down in the eighties or eventually forties, you know, and move those cows. And I think honestly, that's when it's no longer going to be practical to have cow-calf pairs. That's where I lean toward the yearlings or fall calving just for the ease of rotational grazing. Yeah, I think that's the really big hurdle we have to get over because having little calves in the system does make it a lot harder. So that's the goal, just do it more intensely so that they're in there for a day or two or three instead of a week or eight or ten days to get more consistent animal impact.


6)    What advice do you have for someone who is considering changing their grazing system to one that's better for building soil health?


Well, I think I'd first advise them to get a shovel and see what they're dealing with, where they're starting from. Then maybe call in or see us and do a rangeland assessment survey so that they can find out where they're starting from. Then just make a plan based on what your goals are.


So, to improve water infiltration and aggregation, if that's what we're going for, implementing some sort of more management intensive grazing like adaptive grazing, something where you figure out the watering system, figure out your fencing, figure out the size of herd and how many acres you're looking at. You know, just figuring out a plan and talking to guys that have done it before. It's really phenomenal the kind of expertise and knowledge out there. I would recommend that they start talking to a neighbor that started on the system and look at their place.


7)    When you walk across your grasslands now, what do you look for as an indicator of healthy grasslands and healthy soil?


I would say leadplant and Western wheatgrass, and I really like big bluestem. That's really great. In one quarter that we just rented this year that hadn't been grazed for four years there was a lot of Kentucky [bluegrass] in that as well as brome. We hit that pretty hard, you know, for a short amount of time, and within that that summer there started to be some big bluestem and a lot of leadplant came in.


I just smile and just love going out in those pastures that are healthy, you know, where the big bluestem is growing in the creek and up the hillside and it's awesome because you know that those deep roots are bringing nutrients back up. So, there's just a lot of that that really helps to keep you going to see improvements. And then, of course, seeing green grass in the middle of summer, the end of summer. Of course we need rain, but keeping it vegetative helps.


8)    What change have you made that you thought would never work?


I would say the change that we thought would never work would have to be cover cropping after small grains. I hoped it would work, and it seems like it can if we can get the drill chasing the combines around and try to not plant too deep or too shallow. It's kind of a tricky deal, but we've gotten some really good cover crops and we've had a few kind of disasters where, you know, it just didn't rain or we got them too deep or too shallow and some species always grow better than others. But that's been really rewarding to see what we can grow and not hurt the next crop, and that we're actually recycling the nutrients and keeping the soil alive and we're not extracting too much water from the soil like we thought we might. I mean, that was always the thought; we used to think having summer fallow for a year was needed to stock up enough moisture for a crop. So, now to see that we can grow a cover crop and a cash crop, it's really rewarding to see that we can do that with our rainfall, and to learn that it takes a green, growing plant to keep soil alive.


And the animals definitely help pay for this, you know, when they can feed themselves in the wintertime that takes care of the hours on a tractor and fuel for the tractor and man hours and the hay bales. It’s a lot of cost savings for sure, as long as it’s less than a foot of uncrusted snow and we have hay on hand for heavy snow years.


9)    What are the signs that your land is resilient, and what does resiliency mean to you?


I would say to be able to withstand drought and still either grow a crop or be able to keep our herd together without having to cull because of lack of forage. That's really being resilient and being profitable enough to stay in business. To be able to manage it well enough and grow enough forage or crops to feed the animals when we don’t have rain. Resiliency means flexibility and profitability. And not having runoff, that's huge in my mind. If we can capture 90 plus percent of all the rain that falls on our land, that's what makes us very resilient.


10) When we talk about the importance of grazing management, we often refer to the Rs. Of the words rotate, rest, and recover, which one sticks out to you the most and why?


I like rotate. That's because without rotation you can't have either of the other ones. Getting the cows where you want them, when you want them, to accomplish the goals on your range or farmland, that's the key.


Visit these “Growing Resilience Through Our Soils” information pages:

1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts, and more.

2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.

3. Follow Growing Resilience on social media:


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