In June, as part of a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day, 15 farmers and friends of farmers spent their Saturday afternoon roaming the pastures of Cherokee resident Nathan Anderson to learn more about rotational grazing. Not on the guest list but there anyway as if to say, "Hey, it's working!" were bobolinks and meadowlarks as well as a wide variety of native warm season grasses that hadn't been present the year before.
According to Anderson, increased agriculture production since the 1940s has decreased native grass and bird habitat, decreasing their prevalence across the plains of Iowa. One of the high points of the day for Anderson was being able to show others the difference that rotational grazing has made on his pasture in just a little over a year's time. "It's amazing how resilient the environment is and what Nathan has accomplished with proper land management," explains participant Steve Reinart. "By giving pastures short rest periods, we can bring the land back to a healthier state."
PFI Grazing Specialist Kevin Dietzel underscores the significance of Reinart's observation, "Nathan didn't have to purchase and plant any seed or bring in birds. Nature simply reestablished itself when provided with the right environmental conditions."
The length of rotation is based on available forage and paddock size. According to Anderson, the goal is to move the cattle before plant height dips below four inches and hinders regrowth.
As part of a research project with Practical Farmers of Iowa, Nathan is measuring and recording forage diversity and productivity by counting the number and types of plants in his pasture. He is also analyzing soil samples to track changes in soil quality over time and monitoring calves' rate-of-gain and cows' body condition scores.
Rotational grazing has been around for several decades, according to Dietzel, but has not been widely adopted. The extra planning and labor required discourages some farmers from giving it a try. For Nathan he feels the payoffs are well-worth a little extra effort. "You can feed more animals per acre, produce more forage and you don't have to invest in fertilizers and herbicides," he says.
Nathan Anderson's field day is one of more than 30 being held by Practical Farmers of Iowa in 2011. Most field days are free, and everybody is welcome to all of them. For a copy of the 2011 Field Day Guide, you can call the PFI office at 515.232.5661 or down load a printable PDF at http://practicalfarmers.org/events/field....
Practical Farmers of Iowa recognizes the following sustaining sponsors: Albert Lea Seedhouse, American Natural Soy, Iowa Farmers Union, ISU Extension, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), Seed Savers, USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, in addition to the following major sponsors: Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA), CROPP Cooperative of Organic Valley/Organic Prairie Family of Farms and Iowa State University Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture.
Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is an open, supportive and diverse organization of farmers and friends of farmers, advancing profitable, ecologically sound and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture through farmer-to-farmer networking, farmer-led investigation and information sharing. Farmers in our network produce corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. For additional information, call 515.232.5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.