Conservation Gone to the Goats!

As a dog owner, I’ve covered a lot of miles with my Siberian Husky walking the streets, sidewalks and trails of west Ames. However, one of our special adventures is taking a short road trip out to Ada Hayden Heritage Park on the north side of town. It’s just a few miles away, but visiting this urban park gives the feeling of a great escape when you’re immersed in the sights and sounds of the prairie, oak savanna, and wetlands surrounding the lake itself.

Wildlife sightings are always exciting out at Ada Hayden, and the changing seasons bring a plethora of unique insects, reptiles, amphibians, and waterfowl to the park. On our most recent visit, we were excited to stumble upon a different animal we hadn’t seen out there before – goats! A new herd has taken the park by storm, and it’s all in the name of conservation!

Along the south side of the lake, a herd of 40+ goats, provided by Goats On the Go, has taken up temporary residence in a 3.5 acre area. The goats were brought in specifically for the purpose of targeted grazing, clearing out low brush and managing invasive vegetation in the oak savanna area. Targeted grazing with goats offers many benefits – including reduced use of herbicides (and the associated challenges of herbicide resistance), reduced need for mowing, and their ability to work in rough terrain with minimal risk of erosion. The goats are fenced in to ensure they are grazing the correct targeted area, and they typically spend 4-7 days per acre before being moved. The Goats On the Go website says it best: Goats go where people can’t, eat what most animals won’t, and leave behind nothing but fertilizer.

How do the goats know exactly what to eat?  The goats are not specifically trained to eat certain plants and avoid others. It just so happens that quite a few common nuisance or invasive species are to be some of the goats’ favorite delicacies, including honeysuckle, poison ivy, wild parsnip, buckthorn, garlic mustard, thistle, ragweed, mulberry, and more. The goats will also eat some grass, but when the above species are present, the grass comprises a pretty small portion of their diets.

The City of Ames is in good company with its use of targeted grazing. Goats are gaining traction across the country as excellent mob grazers, from airports (Goats, Llamas and Sheep Make Up Landscaping Team at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport) to golf courses (Grazing Goats To Help Prune SF Presidio Golf Course’s Bushes, Lawns) and business campuses (check out the Goats of Google!).

SO, bring on the goats! It’s quite the show, and ALSO an excellent practice when it comes to land management, invasive species control, and conservation.

In addition to the goat spectacle, the prairie is ablaze in color out at Ada Hayden, as well. I’ll leave you with a selection of snapshots from our adventure exploring the prairies and wetlands, and the lake as well, on a gorgeous July day.

Ann Staudt

Chatting about Conservation with Sharon Krause – From Farm to Community

When it comes to conservation, Sharon Krause, strives for a comprehensive approach. As owner and operator of Dalla Terra Ranch, a grass fed organic lamb operation, and a member of the Earlham community, she has a love for preserving soil and water as well as town heritage and pride.

In the 30th episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito met with Sharon, a native Iowan, to discuss her passion for lambs, healthy lands and her local community.

Sharon KrauseSharon’s motivation for conservation and the love of the outdoors is credited to her parents who encouraged her to get outside and explore the world around her.  They also supported her as she pursued her engineering degree at Iowa State University.

Upon graduation, she was the first female engineer hired at the Firestone in Des Moines and helped launch their recycling program.  Her career then led her to Metro Waste Authority where she pioneered their Curb It! Program that made household recycling easier which has led to increased participation. Before the program began in 1994, an average of 8 pounds per household was recycled each week. In 2015, nearly 28,000 tons of material were recycled through the program.

From working a tire manufacturing plant to a landfill and now a farm, Sharon and her husband, Kyle, joke that “she is not having fun if she’s not dirty!”

Sharon began her lamb operation about 10 years ago and as a former engineer, she is using data and research to help make decisions. The operation maintains about 225 ewes that throw nearly 400 lambs each year.  Using a smart phone app, she analyzes her operation’s performance by tracking time spent in each of the 23 smaller pastures of the larger 153 acres of pasture that the lambs rotational graze.

“I very intensely rotationally graze my animals over the course of the year. You want to be very care that you don’t let your foliage get too short. That’s very hard on the root system and there’s not enough leaf area to take in the sunshine. So the shorter you graze your pastures, the less production you are really going to get.”

In addition to implementing conservation practices on her land, Sharon is helping lead a project to revitalize the Bricker-Price Block on Main Street Earlham.  Through community input, the project aims to provide a farm-to-table restaurant, community center and a youth gathering space.  The conservation of the building’s history will help tell the story of the city and strengthen the vitality of the rural community.

Tune in to Episode 30 of the Conservation Chat for more of this great conversation with Sharon Krause!  You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and on iTunes.

Liz Juchems

 

Who Doesn’t Want to See More Cattle on the Rolling Green Pastures of Iowa?

I have a soft spot for beef cattle. I mean, who doesn’t like to see cattle on rolling green fields on a beautiful Iowa summer day? While this pastoral scene can bring tranquility and enjoyment, returning more land to grazing has water quality benefits and social benefits.

gilmorecity1As you know, I spend most my time thinking or talking about the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS). Most of my presentations are on edge-of-field nitrate reduction practices. My job is to study specific engineering solutions to our water resource issues. Perhaps not all of our problems can be solved through engineering? Radical thought.

When you really look at our nutrient loss issues, the most important factor affecting nutrient loss is that today there are primarily annual row crops where once there was perennial vegetation pre-settlement or diverse crop rotations during the early 1900’s.

These cropping systems have made Iowa an agricultural leader. We are unlikely to see major land use changes in the near future, but I do think there is potential for more
diverse land uses, especially in certain areas in Iowa. One way to diversify would be an March_img_4373increase in pasture and hay land. For this to work, we would need more cattle to forage.

The Iowa NRS Nonpoint Source Science Assessment estimated that grazed pastureland had 85% nitrate-N reduction and 59% P reduction compared to an annual corn-soybean system. Another added value of having greater need for forage by cattle might be that this could greatly improve the potential economics of cover crops. Late fall and early spring grazing could provide some of the forage needs for the cattle.

Mattblog_crop2

The infrastructure to increase beef cattle on pasture is not what it once was. We have taken out miles of fence throughout the state and there are substantial labor needs for an integrated livestock-cropping system. On the other hand, adding some diversity to agricultural operations could open up opportunities for young farmers to get back on the landscape.

DSCN0318As we move forward with implementation of nutrient reduction practices, it is important to think about our livestock system and how we might be able to increase the number of cattle on pasture in Iowa. Not only could this benefit our environment and maybe provide more opportunities for young people to get into agriculture, it could also add substantial beauty to our landscape with cattle grazing green pastures.

Matt Helmers

To explore the benefits of pasture-based livestock operations, check out Dr. Helmers’ Conservation Chat or Leopold Center Dr. Mark Rasmussen’s Conservation Chat. Matt Helmers is an Iowa Learning Farms team member and Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University. 

Conservation Chat: Talking Patience and Passion with Farmer Nathan Anderson

In the latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, host Jacqueline Comito sat down with Nathan Anderson, a young Iowa farmer who farms in eastern Cherokee County. Nathan’s farm includes row crop corn and soybeans, a cow-calf herd that is rotationally grazed and other conservation practices such as no-till, strip-till, diverse cover crop mixes, nutrient management and CRP.

Nathan graduated from Iowa State in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy. He always knew he wanted to go back to his family’s farm. After a conversation with his father just before graduation, Nathan knew that was the time for him to head back. “My whole life, I’ve wanted to be able to come back and farm,” said Nathan. “I’m really thankful for that opportunity.”

nathan-and-father-randy

The Anderson family made room for Nathan and his wife, Sarah, and allowed the couple to rent some of their own farmland. Alongside his father, Nathan was given room to try new things, including adding cover crops to the operation, beginning rotational grazing for the cow-calf operation, increasing herd size and even changing the genetics of the herd to include cattle that could better utilize the pasture resources he was cultivating.

conservation-chat-blog_cropped

“It takes people like my dad who are willing to let somebody come back into the farming operation,” Nathan said of his father. He recognizes that his father made sacrifices, including “[forgoing] some of that income, and also [letting] me try new things that maybe he doesn’t agree with or doesn’t know about.”

speaking_pfi-field-day-2016As a third-generation farmer, Nathan sees the changes he makes today as an investment for the future legacy of the farm. He also sees the family farm as an important tool. Nathan participates in on-farm research with Iowa Learning FarmsPractical Farmers of Iowa and other organizations to contribute to the knowledge base of cover crops and rotational grazing as he works to minimize the off-farm ecological impacts of his farming practices.

Nathan has become actively involved in the conservation world by not only getting practices on his own land, but also by frequently sharing his experiences at field days, workshops and conferences. He holds several positions, including Cherokee County SWCD Assistant Commissioner, PFI Board Member and Cherokee County Farm Bureau Young Farmer committee member. In the six years that he has been back on the farm, Nathan has had both great and challenging moments. While he has helped to make many changes, he recognizes that there are limits.

“This farming world that we work in, there are a lot of things that we might want to do and we can’t have them all right now,” Nathan commented. “It’s a practice of patience. Patience is active. If you’re being patient, you have to work at it.”

Listen to the Conservation Chat with Nathan Anderson for more of the interview!

Julie Whitson

 

Chatting with Seth Watkins: Curiosity, Creativity and Happy Cows

The latest episode in the Conservation Chat podcast series features an engaging interview with Seth Watkins of Pinhook Farm, near Clarinda in southwest Iowa. Watkins has a 600-head cow-calf enterprise and takes a whole farm approach to conservation: rotational grazing, wetlands, late season calving, and row crops integrated with prairie strips and cover crops.

Program Director Jacqueline Comito interviewed Watkins earlier in May after we had completed a farm tour-slash-field trip with a small group of Corning Elementary students (read more about it in our blog post ILF Partner Seth Watkins hosts 3rd Grade Field Trip).

ConservationChat-Watkins(angle)

This Conservation Chat episode is enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout– it’s a fascinating discussion about agricultural production, sustainability, curiosity, continual learning, and striving to make rural Iowa a better place to live.

“When you invest in the land, your community prospers.”

What really stood out to me is Seth’s spirit of innovation, determination, and constant learning. Grandson of Jessie Field Shambaugh, widely known as the Mother of 4-H, Seth is truly a modern-day Renaissance man!

“So much of what I’ve learned, and I continue to love to read different aspects of history, economics, things about art, about thinking… those are what have really driven the success of my farm business.”

Listen to the full interview with Seth Watkins on the Conservation Chat website, ILF website, or iTunes.

And for another fun perspective on Seth’s farming operation, check out Episode 23 in the Adventures of the Conservation Pack! Conservation dog Charlie gets to go on an adventure exploring Seth’s pond and learning about how it reduces erosion, filters water, and provides habitat.

Ann Staudt

April Cover Crop Field Days – Register Today!

It is officially spring and cover crop fields are beginning green up across the state!

Meerdink Cover Crops

Photo Credit: Becca Meerdink from Deep Creek Watershed Project in Plymouth County

The Iowa Learning Farms has three cover crop field days coming up in early April.  The field days will highlight the benefits of grazing cover crops, discuss spring management, and an evaluation of seeding techniques.  Plan to attend a field day listed below and hear from local farmers using cover crops in their operations, as well as ISU Extension and Outreach field specialists and staff from Practical Farmers of Iowa.

April 12, 12:30pm – 2:30pm
Cover Crop Management and Grazing Field Day
Hosts: Daryl Ducommun and Ramona & John Nitz
4265 R Ave, Larrabee
In partnership with Gere Creek Watershed
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu
Press Release
Flyer

April 13, 10:30am – 12:30pm

Cover Crop Seeding Techniques Field Day
½ mile west of Main St, Kanawha
Field Location Map: https://goo.gl/maps/J2X4dEYNmyC2
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu
Press Release
Flyer

April 14: 5:30pm – 8:00pm

Grassroots Grazing of Cover Crops
Henry County Extension Office
127 N. Main, Mt. Pleasant
RSVP to Henry County Extension Office: 319-385-8126 by April 12
Press Release
Flyer

 

We hope to see you there!

Liz Juchems

Grazing cover crops? Check your herbicide labels!

A new Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (ISUEO) publication aims to make herbicide labels easier to read, especially if you are considering grazing cover crops.

Interest in cover crops has dramatically increased due to their many potential benefits. In addition to conservation purposes, cover crops can provide forage for livestock producers. It is important for livestock producers to consider restrictions on labels of herbicides used earlier in the growing season if they intend to use the cover crop as a forage source. Herbicide Pub_Page_1

 

The two primary reasons for label restrictions related to cover crops are: 1) herbicide residues may prevent successful establishment of the cover crop, or 2) residue tolerances have not been established for the presence of the herbicide within the cover crop. Regardless of the reason for the restriction, failing to follow the restrictions is a violation of the label and therefore a punishable offense.

 

Bob Hartzler, professor in agronomy and extension weed specialist at ISU, Meaghan Anderson, field agronomist with ISUEO and Rebecca Vittetoe, field agronomist for ISUEO reviewed herbicide labels and created an easy to read chart of common herbicide products.

The publication is free to download from the ISUEO Extension Store.

Liz Juchems