Through our Livestock Program, we work with farmers to conduct on-farm research, hold pasture walks and field days, and host educational events based on priorities identified by our livestock farmer members.
Practical Farmers’ Livestock Program encompasses producers of all sizes and scales, from backyard chickens and bees to large-scale beef, hog and poultry operations. Many are graziers, using rotational grazing, forage stockpiling, cover crop grazing and the introduction of perennial and native forages into the landscape. Through the Livestock Program, we seek to help members become more profitable and sustainable in their operations by organizing events and conducting research based on member input and priorities. Current research and demonstration projects focus on grazing management, planting and grazing cover crops, swine nutrition and production, livestock health, and recordkeeping. We also plan workshops, farm tours, and invite speakers to answer questions on alternative management systems, grazing strategies, and other topics of interest to our members.
Member interests and priorities
Beef cattle represent the largest segment of the livestock-owning members and is one of the top five enterprises among all PFI members. High-density grazing, cover crop grazing, grass finishing, and reintroduction of native or warm-season forages are some of the main focuses. Current research and programming focuses on monitoring and improving pasture productivity and soil health through grazing management, and grazing or harvesting cover crops to reduce winter feed costs.
Pork, specifically niche pork production, is another major interest area. From heritage breeds to pasture-raised to certified organic, PFI members exist in all areas of the niche pork movement. Current PFI programming and research is focused on feeding small grains, high-forage diets, apple cider vinegar supplementation, alternative marketing strategies, and retrofitting barns for niche production.
Poultry, whether broiler chickens, laying birds, or turkeys or ducks, is a major enterprise, particularly among new and beginning farmers. Comparison of poultry breeds, tracking finances, and feeding alternative protein sources are some of the focus areas of on-farm research and other events.
Sheep and goats are a small but significant enterprise on PFI farms. Programming research is underway to investigate the effects of alternative free choice minerals, using goats for vegetative management, pasture lambing, the possible benefits of milking once versus twice a day on goat dairies, and sheep dairying opportunities.
Dairy farmers represent a small segment of our members, but there has consistently been a growing interest, especially from beginning farmers. Outreach is focused on grass-based milk production, comparisons between conventional and organic dairying, and value added products.
Research is one of the key components of PFI’s mission. Farmer-researchers in the cooperators program envision and implement on-farm research projects with the assistance of the livestock coordinator. Data is analyzed and reported each winter at the Cooperator’s Meeting. Current research projects include pasture monitoring and improvement, grazing cover crops, swine feeding trials, recordkeeping projects, small ruminant mineral feeding trials, experimenting with poultry rations; among others. Research reports can be accessed below. Interested in becoming a cooperator, or have an idea for a project? Contact Meghan at [email protected] or (515) 232-5661.
Field days and pasture walks
PFI believes in farmer-led learning and information-sharing. The most popular part of our programming is the field day offerings. Members host the events on their farms, providing not just tours but open and honest information about their management practices, what has (or hasn’t worked), and their plans for the future. Field days sometimes feature hands-on opportunities such as poultry processing, fence construction, and tree planting. See our Field Day Guide for more information regarding upcoming dates.
Workshops, webinars, and conferences
The Annual Conference in January is the yearly pinnacle of PFI events. Both PFI members and invited speakers share their knowledge and expertise over nearly three days of workshops and lectures. Past invited speakers include Gabe Brown, Neil Dennis, Todd Churchill, Greg Judy, Jim Elizando, Abe Collins and Jim VanDerPol.
Workshops are offered just prior to the Annual Conference and occasionally throughout the year. Past workshops include basic background information on soils, Holistic Management, composting, permaculture, financial record keeping, and tractor/equipment use.
Throughout the year, PFI also holds farminars; webinars featuring expert and novice farmers paired up to discuss a specific topic. Farminars are recorded and archived for future viewing, so even if you miss the premier event, you can check them out later! Viewers are able to ask questions of the pair as the experienced farmer offers insights to the other. Past farminars include raising and marketing hogs through Niman Ranch, genetics and selection in beef cattle, profitable poultry production, meat pricing, and getting started in dairy farming.
PFI owns four livestock scales that may be borrowed by members for use on-farm. We also have several soil sampling probes and a penetrometer, and have a generous long-term loan of a refractometer for Brix measurement. Contact Meghan for more information.
Several factsheets have been prepared to assist livestock farmers in managing their operations. Click on the links to download the sheets.
Livestock enterprise budgeting
Practical Farmers of Iowa invited renowned rangeland scientist and animal behaviorist Fred Provenza to teach a three-day workshop exploring how behavioral processes link the health of soil, plants, herbivores and humans, Nov. 15-17, in Winterset. Fred has provided his notes and slideshow from the workshop.
For more information about our livestock programs and resources, contact:
Meghan Filbert, Livestock Coordinator at [email protected]