Meghan Filbert

Livestock Coordinator

Blog posts

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.

Mark Schleisman with group at field day 4_11_17

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.

High Clearance Seeder_ILF

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.


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.

Bruce Carney and group

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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rye raw edit

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.

wade and crowd1

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.

Goats are becoming increasingly popular for managing unwanted vegetation because they provide a ‘green’ alternative to pesticides while benefitting the animals and land. This project evaluated the use of goats to control invasive species, such as honeysuckle and multiflora rose, and invigorate native savanna growth. A research plot was established for comparing the effectiveness of goats – goats browsed certain areas and were not allowed to browse in others.

Penny Perkins, an ecologist specializing in land rehabilitation, conducted this project in 52 acres of timber near Ogden, IA. “Goats can be a viable, practical, and affordable tool to maintain timber stands; a tool that landowners should take advantage of,” stated Penny.

Read the full report here: Using Goats to Control Invasive Species

Timber that goats browsed is shown on the right. Goats help control invasive species.

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Grassland bird populations in Iowa have been in decline, but studies have shown that conservation of birds can be facilitated in landscapes by introducing grazing disturbances at appropriate stocking densities.  Bird species that have been threatened, such as the bobolink, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, and the eastern bluebird, nest in grasslands, which can be provided by rotationally grazed pastures.

For the last several years, Bruce Carney, a cattle grazier in Maxwell, has been observing diverse bird populations in his pastures. Bruce lives a quarter of a mile away from Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt, a wetland and prairie conservation area, and wondered if his pasture provide adequate bird habitat, similar to that at Chichaqua. “I started seeing bobolinks in my pastures and was curious why they are coming to my 300 acres when there are 10,000 acres of wildlife conservation down the road,” said Bruce. The objectives of this research project were to determine if properly managed pasture could replicate the bird habitat of a restored prairie and how pasture with perennial plus annual plant species effects bird populations.

You can read the full report here: Monitoring Birds in Rotationally Grazed Pasture

Grace Baumgartner, student at Drake University, performs bird counts in Bruce Carney’s rotationally grazed pastures.

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All across Iowa, the landscape is starting to be dotted more and more with green fields in winter time. Just a few years ago, very few Iowa farmers were using cover crops in between their corn and soybeans. Today, many farmers say they want to use cover crops to reduce soil erosion from their fields to protect their black gold. Other farmers, especially those located in the headwaters of the North Raccoon watershed – the water the feeds Des Moines Waterworks with drinking water for the residents of Des Moines – have reducing nitrates at the top of their mind.

Clean water is of highest priority and cover crops are one of the practices that have the biggest impact. Cover crops come with an upfront cost, but some farmers are using cattle to make it pay. On November 10th, a group of 35 farmers, landowners, and agency employees toured two farms near Lytton to see how Wes Degner and Ben Albright are finding the cash in their cover crops.

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Over 30 farmers visited the Mingo Locker on October 15, for the second field day in a two part series. In September, the group visited Carney Family Farms to see grass-finished beef cattle that were ready for market. These cattle had been ultrasounded to determine carcass characteristics, which can be read about here. At the locker, we were able to get an up close and personal look at four of the animals we had seen a couple weeks before. The cattle were harvested three days before we arrived, and each was assigned a USDA beef quality grade. We were then able to compare the quality grade evaluation to the ultrasound data, to see how well they matched up.

Field day attendees get suited up to inspect grass-fed beef carcasses at the Mingo Locker in Mingo, IA.

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In late September, 28 farmers visited Carney Family Farms to learn about a project Bruce Carney has been conducting with PFI. Before the field day, Bruce ultrasounded a group of his grass-fed cattle twice, at one year and two years of age, to determine carcass characteristics. Each animal was measured to estimate ribeye area, fat thickness and intramuscular fat percentage (marbling). Bruce, and other farmers, want to know if these measurements can help them decide when a grass-fed animal is adequately finished and can be taken to market. It’s not as easy to visually tell when a grass-finished animal is truly finished, as it is with a grain-fed animal. Two handouts using live animal ultrasound and evaluating beef carcasses with ultrasound were given out at the field day.

The group of attendees looked at 14 cattle, seven steers and seven heifers, who are all about two years old and going to be harvested in the next six months. Then, the cattle were ranked from most to least finished, and the rankings were compared to the ultrasound data. The group learned that what you see visually doesn’t always match up to the data. The four most market-ready cattle chosen by visual inspection didn’t necessarily match up to having the highest scores in every measurement taken by the ultrasound, although they did tend to have some of the largest ribeyes.


Field day attendees rank a group of heifers for market readiness on September 28, 2016.

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