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#Fridaysonthefarm: Young Iowa Farmer Implements New Grazing System

#Fridaysonthefarm: Young Iowa Farmer Implements Grazing SystemStory by Jason Johnson, NRCS Iowa

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.

In this #Fridaysonthefarm feature, NRCS travels to Allamakee County, Iowa, where young livestock producer Ryan Collins implements a new grazing system for the good of his cattle, his land and his family.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Young Iowa Farmer Implements Grazing System Web Map


A Solid Foundation

When Iowa livestock producer Ryan Collins bought his 170-acre farm near Harpers Ferry, he knew from experience that the NRCS could help him plan a rotational grazing system.

A rotational grazing system—also known as prescribed grazing—divides pastures into four or more small paddocks with fencing. The animals move from paddock to paddock on a schedule based on the availability of forage and the livestock’s nutritional needs.

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As part of the rotational grazing system, Collins installed more than 7,000 feet of permanent barbed wire multi-strand fence and 3,500 feet of permanent high-tensile fencing.

Collins says he has a lot more grass available than before. “I attribute it to the rotational grazing,” he said. “I like to have plenty of grass. The cows and calves both do, as well.”

Opportunities for Growth

When he first contacted NRCS for assistance, Collins assumed he would only receive help with fencing for his new grazing system. 

Today, however, he works regularly with NRCS staff – including District Conservationist LuAnn Rolling – to develop and implement his plan that is helping him better manage his grasslands, keep his cattle healthy and productive, and protect the natural resources on his farm.

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“I didn’t realize there were so many practices available for funding through EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) until I started working with LuAnn,” said Collins. EQIP provides agricultural producers financial and technical assistance to implement structural and management practices that optimize environmental benefits on working agricultural lands. NRCS provided about $17.7 million through EQIP to Iowa farmers in fiscal year 2016.

As a beginning farmer — a group USDA considers historically underserved — Collins received higher payment rates than most farmers for the conservation practices he installed.

Good for the Cattle, for the Land

Design of the rotational grazing system called for three of five paddocks to utilize an existing pond for drinking water. One of the practices Rolling recommended—a limited-access ramp for ponds—is Collins’ key to watering his cattle.

Rolling recommended fencing off the pond to prevent erosion and pond degradation, where livestock drink directly from it from a fenced access ramp.

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The entire access ramp is 40-feet long with a gradual 8:1 slope. A contractor installed geo-textile, covered it with 3- to 9-inch rock, and topped it with 2- to 3-inch rock. The 15-foot by 15-foot drinking area is covered in water. “The ramp is very solid and stable, and won’t erode,” said Collins.

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Rolling says livestock should almost always be excluded from streams and ponds. “Allowing unlimited access to water sources like ponds and creeks can be dangerous and unhealthy for animals,” she said. “Cattle can get foot rot and leg injuries. Plus, cattle prefer clean water.”

Rolling says keeping animals out of ponds extends pond life, too, allowing bank vegetation to grow. This keeps water cleaner by reducing sediment and nutrient runoff.

Conserving the Family Farm

Collins is so pleased with the new conservation practices on his farm that he’s working with his father to implement some of the same practices on the family farm. 

“We are going to convert some cropland to pasture to more easily connect two farms for a rotational grazing system,” he said. They are also planning to install limited-access ramps on livestock watering ponds, as well as two new watering facilities.

For more information about conservation planning and programs for your farm, visit your local NRCS office. CLICK HERE to learn about USDA resources for new farmers.

Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook.

View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.