Meghan Filbert

Livestock Coordinator

I grew up in Council Bluffs and always dreamt of being a vet, so attending Iowa State was an easy decision. During my years at ISU, my interests shifted towards livestock nutrition and international animal agriculture. Through study abroad opportunities, I traveled to many different parts of the world studying animal production systems. After graduating, I worked in the nutrition lab at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, and then left Iowa to attend graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

I received a master’s degree from Cornell in nutritional toxicology, studying mycotoxin contamination in peanuts and corn. During grad school, I worked closely with agriculture extension staff and became interested in the diversity of farms in the Northeastern US. After graduation, I took a position as a dairy/livestock extension educator in the Catskill Mountains.  Working for extension in a rural county with many dairy farms, I became a dairy calf health specialist. The county I worked in is part of the NYC watershed and my work on farms focused on manure and pathogen management for water quality.  I helped dairy, beef, sheep and goat farmers plan and design livestock facilities, organized farmer education events, conducted on-farm research and collaborated on whole farm management plans.

I couldn’t be more excited to be back in Iowa and working for PFI, as I’ve been admiring the organization from afar for many years. I look forward to learning from farmers and contributing to sustainable livestock production in the region I’m most passionate about.

Blog posts

“Give ’em some grass, water, and salt,” says Russ Wischover, “And cash the check at the end of the year. That’s my kind of livestock!” Russ, who farms in in Bedford, just north of the Missouri border, has converted his farm into pastureland over the last six years. He’s a proponent of using very little infrastructure and raises livestock best suited to his extensive farming management.

Russ purchased his farm in 2007 and at that time it was partly cropped by a tenant farmer and partly in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). When Russ permanently moved to the farm, the fields weren’t planted back to corn or soybeans and he started seeing grasses come up in the bare areas. Feeding purchased hay and bale-grazing “really woke the ground up” to the extent that desirable perennial species became prevalent. Grazing the former CRP ground helped also helped revive his land, and now fifty species of native prairie plants can be identified on his farm.

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Murray Grey cattle graze in pastures that used to be crop ground.

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In mid-August, 60 people visited Lost Lake Farm to learn about one of Iowa’s newest dairies. Kevin and Ranae Dietzel built a milking parlor and cheesery in 2016 – where 21 cows are milked and where that milk is turned into artisan cheese.  “We make cheese to add value to milk on the farm,” said Kevin, who explained that adding value is necessary to make this small-scale, grass-fed operation profitable.

Kevin got his start making cheese when he and Ranae raised one dairy cow that produced far too much milk than they could drink. Kevin experimented at home, which lead him to take cheese-making courses in Vermont and Wisconsin, fueling his dream of becoming a dairy farmer. Eventually, Kevin and Ranae found a farm outside of Jewell, IA to establish their dairy.

Lost Lake Farm is named after Lake Cairo, which was a 1,500 acre lake that was drained at the turn of the century to turn into agriculture land. The farm is situated around the ancient lake bed, which is comprised of Blue Earth soil and contains high amounts of carbon. This land once was a reed-collecting route and campground for the Meskwaki Indians.

Kevin, Ranae, Sterling and Scarlett Dietzel stand in front of their cheesery door at Lost Lake Farm in Jewell, Iowa.

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If you’re a goat or sheep farmer – you’re probably familiar with Haemonchus contortus (barber’s pole worm) – a worm responsible for the biggest disease problem of small ruminants. When not adequately controlled this worm may cause death. Unfortunaly, due to the misuse and overuse of dewormers over many years, resistance to dewormers is a huge problem that threatens the viability of sheep and goat farming.

The FAMACHA system was developed to decrease dewormer resistance by selectively deworming only those animals that require treatment – instead of the whole herd. When a farmer selectively deworms, the worm eggs produced by the few resistant worms that survive treatment are greatly diluted by all the eggs produced by the animals that did not receive treatment. In contrast, when all animals in a herd are dewormed, only resistant worms that survive the treatment will produce all the eggs that form the next generation of worms.

Eric and Deb Finch, who raise meat goats near State Center, have implemented the FAMACHA system on their farm. They invited Dr. Paul Plummer, an Iowa State veterinarian and dairy goat farmer, to their field day to give a training to 30 farmers before taking a tour of the farm.

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Deb Finch (left) hold a her goat, while PFI members inspect a goat’s eyelid to diagnos the anemia level in the goat, which is correlated to barber’s pole worm load. By monitoring anemia, resilient and susceptible animals can be identified.

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Phil Specht speaks to field day attendees while standing in the pastures where bobolinks nest and cows graze. Below, a poem written by Phil.

Leaving Home, Flying Home
The tall Pampas
now strips, corners.
Soy in bare fields.
Each year easier to leave
Bobolink’s goodbye Argentina.
Wing beat by wing beat
not knowing, following faith.
Somewhere in Iowa
the tallgrass waves.
Still, for one more generation.
Melody of meadowlark
beckoning you?
Beat by tired beat
Home when you can fly
no further?
Or the optimism of green?
Color of life.
Inspiration of poets.
Joined, sharing paradise.
Even if briefly, eternally.

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Matt Schuiteman, of AJS Farms in Sioux Center, started planting cereal rye in 2006 as a “trap crop” for manure nutrients. He has experimented with grazing it, baling it and growing it for seed. Matt told 65 attendees at his field day on May 30, to get the most direct payback from cover crops, put them through cattle. Matt has a cow/calf herd of 40 Shorthorn cattle and calculated the feed value of the rye to be $281 per acre!

Matt says the feed value of rye balances out the yield hit you may see in corn when planting rye, which could be around 25 bushels per acres. Matt did some quick math – if corn is selling for $4.00 per bushel, your loss would be $100 per acre. In this scenario, the forage value of the cover crop still puts you $181 per acre ahead.

Continue reading for more information, photos and an Iowa State University factsheet on cereal rye forage. Below you’ll find our first-ever video recap of a field day!

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Berkshire pigs on pasture at Golden Bear Farm

Berkshire pigs on pasture at Golden Bear Farm

The Spring 2017 issue of the Practical Farmer, includes an article titled “Forage-Fed Pig Production” highlighting  Steve Deibele’s feeding practices. Steve’s a pastured pig and cattle farmer at Golden Bear Farm in Kiel, Wisconsin. He spoke at Practical Farmers’ annual conference last January on raising pigs on a forage heavy diet without the use of corn or soybeans. This blog post accompanies the newsletter article.

Average Daily Gains

“Under controlled conditions in the barn, we get our best growth rates. Pastured hogs have greater exposure to weather conditions than confined hogs which can hinder growth rates. Bad weather can degrade pastured hog comfort, impacting feeding behavior and pasture growth rates.  Hot weather, cold weather, and prolonged wet weather reduce pastured hog growth rates,” explained Steve.  

Hog growth rates at Golden Bear Farm

Average daily gains at Golden Bear Farm, during the winter, when pigs are fed indoors. The indoor ration consists of free-choice small grains, 1 to 3 lbs. apples per day, good baleage, and moderate quality hay bedding, During the grazing season, they are pastured and see more variable daily gains.

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Mark and Melissa Schleisman, of M & M Farms near Lake City, hosted 46 people on April 11. The sun was shining, cows were out grazing cover crops and a few newborn calves had just been born in a field of cereal rye.

Mark came back to his family’s farm full time six years ago, after a career with Conagra. M & M Farms is a 2,000 acre diversified family farm that includes corn, soybeans, popcorn, hogs and a cow-calf operation. Cover crops are planted on 1,300 of these acres. Most all of these cover crops are grazed by cows in the fall and spring of each year.

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Mark Schleisman (holding mic) speaks to field day attendees in a field of triticale.

Innovative Cover Cropping

Mark seeds cover crops between August 15 and August 31, using a modified detasseler and a drill. The modified detasseler blows seed into standing corn, and the drill is used to seed covers directly after harvesting popcorn. Mark also custom seeds cover crops for producers in his area and said that in recent years, his business has doubled every year.

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Mark’s modified detasseler is similar to a modified high-clearance sprayer or Hagie Highboy pictured here. Photo courtesy of Iowa Learning Farms.

Mark’s cover crop mix includes either cereal rye and/or triticale as the base species, then blends in Jackhammer radish, Purple Top turnip, or Dwarf Essex rape depending on the field. He drills radish after harvesting popcorn seed with the goal of breaking up compaction caused by detasseling. Rapeseed is planted in field corn because it does better with less sunlight than the other cover crop species.

If planning on planting only cereal rye, with the goal to graze it, Mark recommends seeding at 120 pounds per acre. Mark has received EQIP cost-share for the last ten years to help pay for his cover crops and told attendees to look into seeding rates and dates in order to receive cost-share assistance from your local NRCS office. In order to continue receiving cost-share, Mark had to continue adding cover crop species, which ultimately led him to use the blends he’s currently planting.

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On March 30, a group of farmers got together to learn about grazing cover crops and the value cattle bring to crop fields. Bruce Carney, a cattle grazier who produces grass-fed beef, and Rick Kimberley, a row-crop farmer, are neighbors who live outside Maxwell, IA. They’ve worked out an agreement for Bruce to graze cover crops on Rick’s fields, and both farmers are reaping the benefits.

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Bruce Carney (left), a cattle grazier, and Rick Kimberley, a row-crop farmer, are neighbors and have worked out an agreement to graze cover crops on crop fields.

Bruce and Rick are collecting data for an on-farm research project demonstrating the economic and soil health benefits of grazing cover crops. Practical Farmers is working with The Pasture Project to measure below-ground benefits of cover crops and animal impact. Attendees gathered in a field that had been aerial seeded with a six-species mix in September 2016. The mix included cereal rye, spring forage barley, hairy vetch, mustard, turnip and red clover. Six species were seeded in hopes to maximize soil health benefits.

At the time of the field day in late March, the rye had come back, but the cattle were not grazing yet because Bruce didn’t think it was tall enough. He turned his cattle out on April 12, when the rye was 10 inches tall. “The rye is now growing faster than the cattle are eating it. Right now only my grass-finishers are out grazing it, but I’m going to put my cows and calves on it too, since there’s so much re-growth,” explained Bruce.

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Field day attendees listen to Bruce Carney explain how he grazes his neighbor’s cover crops. Bruce offers dry hay to his cattle when they’re out grazing lush cereal rye to ensure they get enough roughage.

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A field of cereal rye field used as a calving pasture in early spring at Glenwood Century Farm near Albion, IA.

Practical Farmers’ Cover Crop Caravan spring field day series kicked off on March 28th at Glenwood Century Farm near Albion. 29 attendees came to hear Wade Dooley, an integrated crop, livestock and vegetable farmer who’s been planting cover crops since 1997. About ten years later, Wade started taking advantage of those cover crops with his beef herd.

2008 was an extremely wet year and Wade’s cows were calving in mud. He lost 20% of his calves that year. From then on, Wade decided to strictly calve on fields of green cereal rye and has never looked back. Cow-calf pairs happily graze the fresh forage too, in early spring, when Wade’s permanent pastures haven’t grown enough to allow for grazing.

During the field day, Wade shared his cover crop planting and grazing experiences, then we headed to a cover crop field to test out some soil health tools.

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Field day attendees stand in Wade Dooley’s crop field that had been planted with six species of cover crops and grazed by cattle.

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Are you grazing cover crops this spring, or plan to in the fall? If so, it’s important to check and see if your corn or bean herbicides have grazing restrictions. Some common herbicides do not allow for grazing of cover crops or crop residue.

If you’re grazing covers this spring, look back at what herbicides you applied to those fields in 2016. If you’re planning on planting and grazing covers in crop fields in the late summer, plan your upcoming herbicide application appropriately. Before you spray, read labels to ensure it’s safe to use your cover crops (and your crop residue) as livestock feed.