LYTTON, Iowa — Farmers and others toured fall cover crop fields in the Lytton area Nov. 10. At the first stop, Wes Degner told the crowd how he got started feeding cover crops to his cows, the cover crop species he was using and how he made them work for his operation.
Degner raises corn and soybeans with his father Dennis, but he also has his own cow herd.
“Putting cows on cover crops makes this practice worth it, and I probably wouldn’t do much cover cropping if I didn’t reap these benefits,” Degner said in Practical Farmers of Iowa news release.
For two years, he has been aerially seeding a cereal rye cover crop into 67 acres of corn and soybeans around Labor Day, then grazing his 31 cows on them from early October to mid-November.
“I worked out the math, and think I saved about $3,000 in feed costs by letting cattle graze the rye and corn stalks,” Degner said. “The cost savings pay for the cover crop and at the same time we’re protecting water quality and fertilizing our fields.”
The PFI-sponsored field tour continued to the farm of Ben Albright. Albright raises cattle in several feedlots and has been aerial seeding and drilling cereal rye and oats into soybeans and corn. The first year he planted cover crops, he tried to bale them in the spring, but it didn’t go well because they were too wet. Grazing has worked much better and now he is in his second year of grazing cover crops.
Albright took questions from the audience about how to get cover crops established, when to put cattle out to graze, and how much of his feed ration he can cut back on.
While standing in a field of knee-high rye and oats, he also addressed concerns about soil compaction from cattle grazing crop fields.
A Lake City farmer in the audience, Mark Schleisman, who plants and grazes 1,000 acres of cover crops, chimed in with his thoughts on compaction.
“I think we’ve been too scared about compaction; I’ve noticed that it’s not been that big of a deal,” he said. “The cover crop roots really decrease the presence of compaction and the fields that were grazed turn out to be my best looking fields.”
Both Degner and Albright work with PFI in a project supported by the Iowa Department of Agriculture. They are looking for water quality solutions that also help farmers investigate methods for making conservation more cost-effective.
Cover crops are an important practice for improving water quality, and as Degner says, “even if we don’t get government cost-share for cover crops, we now know we can continue planting and grazing cover crops because the costs are offset by feeding less hay to our cows.”
For those who are worried about potential water quality regulations and how to weather price swings, this win-win situation makes conservation an easier sell, he said.
To learn more about cows and cover crops, check out these upcoming opportunities to learn from other farmers:
- “Graze and Bale: Cover Crops as Forage,” 7-8:30 p.m., Dec. 6. James Holz and Bill Frederick will talk about how they use cover crops for cow-calf pairs and feedlot cattle production in this free online webinar: http://www.practicalfarmers.org/news-events/events/farminars/.
- Conference Session: “Grazing Cover Crops,” 2:30-3:30 p.m. Jan. 21 during the PFI Annual Conference. Mark Schleisman will share his experience with seasonal grazing of cover crops in an intense crop and livestock production operation. He will discuss how grazing cover crops benefits soil and subsequent crops while offsetting costs: http://practicalfarmers.org/2017-annual-conference/.
- Research Report: “Economic Benefits from Utilizing Cover Crops as Forage.” Read the research report about Degner, Albright and other farmers in the North Raccoon watershed available online here: http://tinyurl.com/z9mvqq3.