Planning Sustainable Grazing Systems

Final Report for ENC98-032

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $45,740.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Matching Federal Funds: $37,980.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $37,980.00
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Mark D. Boswell
Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee
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Project Information

Abstract:

[Note to online version: The report for this project includes appendices that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact North Central SARE at (402) 472-7081 or ncrsare@unl.edu.]

The objective of this project was to provide training on planning sustainable grazing systems. The target audience for this training was NRCS and ISU Extension field staff. In addition CHIPS technicians, Iowa Division of Soil Conservation employees, veterinarians and others were given an opportunity to be a part of this training. All of the targeted groups have the opportunity to work with livestock producers. This training will make these groups more prepared to provide assistance to their clients to assist them in planning sustainable grazing systems. In addition they will be more prepared to provide assistance to producers in the management of these systems once established.

Three days of training were scheduled to complete the necessary training. Dates of the training were established during different times of the growing season. The first session was held in May, second in September and the third was held in January. This training schedule was selected to coordinate with the different phases of the grazing season and the challenges and opportunities provided by each. In addition spreading these days throughout the year better fits the schedule of the participants. Training is offered at three different locations in Iowa. This also works better into the schedules of the participants.

There were 73 registered for the course in the first year. Training was held in May and September of 1999 and January of 2000 in the first year. The professional demographics of this group are as follows: NRCS staff – 41, ISU Extension staff – 6, Ia. Division of Soil Conservation – 6, CHIPS Tech – 5, Veterinarians – 14, and producers – 1.

During the second, and final year, of training 42 people participated in the training. Training was held in May and September of 2000. The final session was held in January 2001. The professional demographics of this years group is as follows: NRCS staff – 20, ISU Extension staff – 1, Ia. Division of Soil Conservation –1, Community Colleges – 1, Certified Crop Advisors – 4, Veterinarians – 10, producers – 5.

For many participants this is the first training they have received where rotational grazing was presented to them as a system instead of training on a component. State, area and field staff from NRCS and ISU Extension as well as producers have provided training that “tied together” different components. Participants learned of the importance of soil in selecting forages and managing a grazing system. Through both classroom and field exercises participants have learned how plants grow and how to measure the amount of forage in the field.

Staff has provided instruction on water needs and how to develop water systems to meet the livestock needs. This has been supplemented by field visits where producers have shared their water system with participants.

Considerable time has been spent presenting information to participants on livestock nutritional needs. This has been coordinated with training on how to meet livestock nutritional needs through grazing systems. In addition participants have received training on determining body condition scores of beef cows. This was coupled with how forages affect a cows body condition score both favorably or to the livestock’s detriment.

With the completion of the January training session there will be 115 more agriculture professionals in Iowa better trained to assist producers wanting to implement or better manage a rotational grazing system. This project is meeting its goal of training field staff from NRCS and ISU Extension and other agriculture professionals to learn the relationship between forage management and livestock management. This training will help these people transfer this knowledge to the livestock producers they assist on a professional basis.

Project Objectives:

1. Upon completion of the course the student will be able to explain the ecological, aesthetic, and economic implications of pasture as a land use.

2. Determine animal nutrient requirements, and use forages in a grazing system to help meet these requirements.

3. Identify how soils affect forage production and grazing management.

4. Explain how plant growth affects management of forages, estimate forage yield and its affect on animal performance, and the management of major forage species to improve its utilization.

5. Identify water sources and how to use them in the grazing system. In addition the student will be able to express the benefits to water quality and herd health with the exclusion of livestock from ponds and streams.

6. Match animal forage needs to grazing system design, including all grazing system components such as fence, water sources and distribution system, and forage species.

7. Understand how to develop and organize outreach programs that include pasture walks and small group meetings to gain producer acceptance of sustainable grazing system concepts.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

To reach interested people in Iowa, training sessions were held in three areas of the state. Sessions were held in northeast Iowa where grassed-based dairy is of primary interest. Southwest and southeast Iowa also hosted sessions with beef cow/calf operations the primary focus. Attempts were made to conduct sessions in northwest Iowa, but there wasn’t adequate local support to conduct the sessions.

The training sessions were a three-day event. However, the training was not held on consecutive days. One training day was held in late May or early June. This enabled participants to witness excess spring growth typical of cool season grass pastures. It gave instructors an opportunity to utilize this in their training presentations. The second day of training was held in late August or early September. This is a period in the growing season when cool season grasses are typically in their lowest production of the growing season. Again instructors utilized this opportunity to show participants, in the field, how good pasture management, utilization of legumes and incorporation of warm season grass can help fill a need in a grazing system during this time of year. The third day of instruction was held in January. This session focused on utilizing corn residues and stockpile forage for winter grazing. Instructors were able to support the training by taking the class to the field so they could witness cattle actually grazing those two forages through snow cover.

The training gave students an opportunity to see forage and livestock at different stages and how this can affect grazing management decisions. This is very important as the participants use the training to assist producers in developing a more sustainable grazing system.
Training was provided by employees of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa State University, Iowa State University Extension, and producers. Training was given in both a classroom and field setting. The field setting allowed for numerous “hands-on” opportunities. Facilities utilized for the training were the Adams County CRP Farm, Iowa State University Armstrong and McNay Research Farms, Northeast Iowa Community College facilities at Calmar and Peosta and producers farms.

Instructors used hands-on-training as much as possible. While in the field students saw how changes in soil affect the type of vegetation that is predominant and the density of the forage.

Students were shown in the field how to identify some of the more common forages in the area. They were also shown how to use the step-point method for determining pasture composition. They learned this method can help more accurately quantify the percentage of grass, legume, bare area and weeds in a pasture.

The training gave the students good back ground for completing a Pasture Condition Evaluation. All of the students completed the exercise and were given ideas how they could use this information in the design and management of a grazing system.

Body condition scoring is a very important tool in Beef Cow Management. Students were given the opportunity to score some groups of cows. The instructors then explained how forages could cause a cow to lose or improve their body condition. This training was combined with why it is so important in Beef Cow Management.

Each participant received a three-ring binder of speaker’s presentations and reference material. A copy of the table of contents of this reference book is included with this report. This binder served as a handbook during the course and a valuable reference following completion of the course. Since it is a three-ring binder students can add new information to the binder in the future. Each student also received a “sward stick” and instruction on how to use it. The stick and the accompanying instruction made the students better prepared to estimate the amount of available forage in a pasture, which is essential in good pasture management.

The participation of producers as course instructors was extremely valuable. Producers showed and explained their water systems, forages used in their grazing systems, and their fence systems. In addition producers in a panel format shared their experiences in the planning, establishment and management of their grazing system. Since the students will be working with other producers to plan and implement grazing systems the panel also shared their thoughts as to what the students can do to assist other producers. Assistance such as making aerial photographs and colored flags available and helping review plans. The panelists encouraged the students to let the producer start the design of the system to give them more “ownership”. An important item as noted by the panelists is to “follow-up” with producers after they establish a system. This will be an important time to be there with information or to be able to direct producers where to find needed information. The panelists also encouraged the students to identify local producers that have successful rotational grazing systems and utilize them to educate other producers.

Outreach and Publications

Each participant and instructor was provided a three-ring binder. The binder served as a student notebook for the training and will be an excellent reference book for them in the future. They also received a sward stick to assist them in forage management. The Table of Contents for the three-ring notebook for the Planning Sustainable Grazing Systems course is included as an attachment to this report.

Linkage to SARE Projects

SARE has provided funding for the Adams County CRP Farm to establish rotational grazing systems. This funding helped provide for the establishment of New Zealand style electric fence, water systems, including solar powered, forage improvement by interseeding legumes and other items critical to the establishment and management of a sustainable rotational grazing system. These material items were displayed during field trips to the farm and they were explained in the context of how they each are a part of a rotational grazing system.

Iowa State University has received SARE and other funds for research and projects on different aspects of grazing management. This information was shared with participants at various stages of the training sessions. Much of the research has been conducted at the McNay Research Farm. These projects were shared with the participants when the McNay Research Farm was utilized for training.

Outcomes and impacts:

The objectives are listed below with a discussion of major results and accomplishments following each objective. A copy of each days training agenda is included with this report to show how the agenda addressed each of the objectives.

1. Upon completion of the course the student will be able to explain the ecological, aesthetic, and economic implications of pasture as a land use.

Accomplished with Item II-A Economic, Aesthetic and Ecological Implications of Pasture as a Land Use in the first session.

Several pieces of material were included in each three-ring binder provided to the students addressing the economic issue. In particular one item was developed utilizing an ISU publication on costs of production for row crops. With assistance of Ralph Mayer, ISU Farm Management Specialist, Brian Peterson, NRCS Grassland Conservationist, revised the report to reflect yields and costs of production of some specific soil types. These soil types represented high producing ridge and bottomland soils and moderately and low producing side hill soils. Breakeven costs for producing corn and soybeans was determined based upon predicted yields and production costs for each of the above mentioned soil types. The producer panel encouraged the students to utilize this information as they work with producers. In their opinion this information could open producers eyes to better more sustainable landuse decisions.

2. Determine animal nutrient requirements, and use forages in a grazing system to help meet these requirements.

Accomplished with Item VIII-A Livestock Nutrient Requirements in the first session and
Item VII Livestock in the second session.

Knowledge of this area was quite variable among the students. Typically NRCS employees in Iowa have little expertise in animal nutrition. The information was shared with the students as a presentation as well as accompanying reference material. In addition this topic was reinforced at each session as the type, amount and quality of forage varied with each of the grazing seasons of the three training sessions. Instruction was given on determining a cows body condition and scoring procedures were practiced by the students. This instruction was related back to the amount and quality of forages available at the time and how the forages would meet nutritional requirements of the animals. Students learned what level of cows body condition is necessary at the various stages during the year for efficient production. The concept of timing calving according to forage growth and the ability of the cow to maintain body condition was taught. Students also learned why it is acceptable for a cow to lose body condition during some periods of the year and how forages can affect the ability of the cow to gain or lose body condition.

3. Identify how soils affect forage production and grazing management.

Accomplished with Item III-A Soil – Plant Relationships and Item V-A Forage Selection, Growth, and Management in the first session and Item IX-A-2 Match the Grazing Systems and Design with Livestock Needs – Pasture design in the second session.

It is easy for people to become narrowly focused to some desirable forage. Presentations were made and information provided to the students that showed how forages produce differently on soils with different characteristics. Students learned soils are a very important factor in developing a sustainable forage system. With on-site visits students witnessed the effect soils can have on grazing management. They learned some soils are wetter and limit their availability during certain weather conditions. Some soils are more erosive and require special care to maintain their productivity.

4. Explain how plant growth affects management of forages, estimate forage yield and its affect on animal performance, and the management of major forage species to improve its utilization.

Accomplished with Item V-A Forage Selection Growth and management; Item VII-A Plant Identification and Growth Characteristics in the first session; Item IV-A Forage Selection, Growth and Management, Item VIII Forage Composition of Pastures, and Item IX-A Match the Grazing System and Design with Livestock Needs in the second session; and Item VIII Winter Grazing, Winter Feed Sources and Emergency Feed in the third session.

Through the use of field visits students gained a better understanding of growth patterns of various forages. Along with this students learned how to manage the forages to take advantage of their growth characteristics to make a more diverse and sustainable grazing system.

Students received a sward stick for them to use as a tool to measure forage height. Information on the stick helped them convert this height to pounds of dry matter available. Instructions were provided to the students to use this information and to estimate forage needs of the grazing animals so they can better manage a grazing system.

The “step point” method for estimating the forage composition in a pasture was demonstrated to the students. They were also given instruction on how to determine “Pasture Condition” utilizing the University of Wisconsin example. After the students were given training on the above-mentioned information they each were given the opportunity to determine pasture composition, pasture condition and the amount of available forage. All of this information was combined to assist them in relating this to livestock needs and the design of a grazing system.

5. Identify water sources and how to use them in the grazing system. In addition the student will be able to express the benefits to water quality and herd health with the exclusion of livestock from ponds and streams.

Accomplished with Item II-A Water and Item IX-A Match the Grazing Systems and Design with Livestock Needs – Pasture Design in the second session and Item V Producer Panel Discussion and Item VIII Water Sources in the Winter in the third session.

Reference material was provided to the student on water source and distribution alternatives. In addition during field visits students witnessed a variety of distribution systems that included: ponds, wells, electric powered pumps, wind and solar powered pumps, nose pumps, gravity flow systems and rural water. In addition they witnessed limited access to ponds.

The producer panel also shared their systems with the group. The panel stressed the need for a reliable system and one that keeps livestock out of their water source.

6. Match animal forage needs to grazing system design, including all grazing system components such as fence, water sources and distribution system, and forage species.

Accomplished with Item VIII-A Livestock Nutrient Requirements in the first session; Item VII-Livestock and Item IX-A Match the Grazing Systems and Design with Livestock Needs in the second session; and Item VIII the Winter Grazing Session in the third session.

In addition to the reference material several presentations were made that related to this issue. A variety of fence materials were demonstrated to the students. The producer panel was very effective in relating to the students how they designed their system.

7. Understand how to develop and organize outreach programs that include pasture walks and small group meetings to gain producer acceptance of sustainable grazing system concepts.

Accomplished with Item V-A Panel Discussion – Producers, NRCS and Extension in the third session.

This was primarily covered by the panel at the final session. Of particular importance were comments by the producers. They encouraged the students to utilize local producers that have successful rotational grazing systems to sell others in the community. Producers said evening pasture walks can be very effective and it is important to make as much economic information available as possible. They also emphasized that if possible help the local producer keep some records so he/she could accurately talk about their system and the benefits of the rotational grazing system.

Training Session Information
Title: Planning Sustainable Grazing Systems
Date: 1999 & 2000- May 11,19, & 20
September 2, 7, & 9
January 11 & 19
Number Trained and Organizations Represented:
Natural Resources Conservation Service: 41
ISU Extension: 6
Veterinarians: 14
Iowa Dept. of Agriculture & Land Stewardship: 6
CHIPS Technicians: 5
Producers: 1
TOTAL: 73 Individuals & 6 Organizations

Educators and Organizations Represented:
Natural Resources Conservation Service: 8
ISU Extension: 14
Iowa State University: 7
Producers: 11
TOTAL: 40 Individuals & 4 Organizations

Training Session Information (Continued)
Title: Planning Sustainable Grazing Systems
Date: 2000 & 2001 – May 24 & 25
June 27
July 18
September 6 & 7
January 25

Number Trained and Organizations Represented:
Natural Resources Conservation Service: 20
ISU Extension: 1
Veterinarians: 10
Private Agriculture Businesses: 4
Producers: 5
Iowa Dept. of Agriculture & Land Stewardship: 1
Area Community College: 1
TOTAL: 42 Individuals & 7 Organizations

Educators and Organizations Represented:
Natural Resources Conservation Service: 8
ISU Extension: 14
Iowa State University: 7
Producers: 11
TOTAL: 40 Individuals & 4 Organizations

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Education Transfer

Participants in the training are primary service providers to producers in their area of the state. NRCS and ISU Extension staff work directly with producers on a variety of issues. The training provided with these sessions makes them better prepared to address the needs of producers in sustainable rotational grazing systems.

As examples, an NRCS employee providing technical assistance to a producer with an erosion problem in a pasture will be able to also discuss with the producer the benefits of establishing a rotational grazing system. In many instances the rotational grazing system will also help solve the erosion problem the producer requested assistance for. An ISU Extension employee making a field visit to look at a weed problem in a pasture will be better prepared to discuss a rotational grazing system and how improved pasture management can reduce weed problems.

CHIPS technician’s work one-on-one with producers and assist them in weighing cattle and other management needs. This training will help them offer management suggestions to the farming system that can improve pasture health and production of the pasture and the livestock.

Veterinarians work directly with producers and their livestock. Many times a change in animal and/or pasture management can result in healthier more productive livestock. They will use this opportunity to provide this service which may result in increased numbers and definitely a satisfied customer.

Examples can be provided for each group that participated in the training. However, instead of more examples the ones provided show a trend that each of the participants has opportunities when working with producers for a “teachable moment”. Producers all have a need for technical assistance with their grazing systems and/or livestock. In many instances the time a person is meeting these needs is when there is also an opportunity to interject suggestions for improved management of grazing lands. The people that participated in this training may or may not assist the producer with the development of a grazing plan, but they will have had the opportunity to “plant a seed” or help “cultivate” some ideas with a producer.

This was the primary goal of this training. The diversity of the participants demonstrates good potential for it to succeed. This training was also an opportunity for NRCS and ISU Extension to work together on this educational effort. This helped the two groups expand upon the working relationships they have developed in the past with other activities. It also helped both the educators and the participants get on the “same page” with grazing system management. This sends a good message to participants and producers that whomever they contact they will be getting the same information. Producers and educators both presented information to the participants on how they could assist local producers with educational programs. The participants now have a resource they have become familiar with to assist them in conducting educational programs, pasture walks and etc.

Currently NRCS and ISU Extension rely predominantly on area staff to provide assistance on livestock, forage and grazing management. This training has expanded the total of 22 “specialists” in the two agencies to 137 in seven different organizations. An increase of 115 trained people available to provide planning assistance for grazing systems will be able to reach a greater number of people than just the 22 NRCS and ISU Extension Specialists.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Evaluation

The training was well received by the participants. An evaluation was provide to the participants and they were given an opportunity to rate on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being Poor or Strongly Disagree, 3 Average or Neutral and 5 Very Good or Strongly Agree. The students rated the Training Facilities as a 4.3, the Three-ring Binder Student Handbook as a 4.4, the Instructors Knowing Their Subject Matter as 4.3, Spreading the Three Days Throughout the Year at an average of 3.9 received the lowest rating.

One veterinarian participating in 1999 commented that ”the training provided some good basic information for veterinarians to use so we can help our customers”. Twenty-four veterinarians participated in the training to become better prepared to serve their customers.

This training provided good basic information to agriculture professionals. There was good participation in the program, but there could always be more. A similar effort will be beneficial “down the road” as new people enter the work force. The people attending these sessions need an opportunity to keep up-to-date and/or to gain more detailed information in specific areas of sustainable rotational grazing systems. In their evaluations participants noted some specific training needs. Primarily Dan Morrical, Animal Science Professor, Iowa State University and Brian Peterson, NRCS Grassland Conservationist developed this training program. They have reviewed the evaluations and reported to SIFLC additional training needs. They will keep SIFLC abreast of future training needs and methods for meeting these needs.

Future Recommendations

This training was an initial step in raising the knowledge level of participants in planning sustainable grazing systems. Participants now need to put their knowledge to work. Working with producers to plan rotational grazing systems will help the participants bring the knowledge gained from the course into actual use.

The opportunity to work with producers will help them “make sense” out of the training material. However, it will also raise more questions. The biggest change for most producers as they move from a continuous grazing system to a rotational grazing system is a need for improved management. The training course gave the participants some knowledge to assist in making some initial changes. However participants will most likely find a need for more training in some areas of grazing system management. This may be more information on nutritional needs of livestock and/or how forages can meet these nutritional needs. Some may need more detailed information on native warm season grasses. Water distribution system can be quite complex and there may be a need for more detailed training on designing distribution systems including pump size, energy sources and water line size.

At this time there have not been specific plans developed to meet all of these needs. However the excellent working relationship developed between NRCS and ISU Extension for this course lays the framework for further training efforts in the future. NRCS has engineers on staff that can provide classroom and field training for some technical issues such as designing water distribution systems. ISU Extension has several livestock specialists and agronomists on staff that can provide training on livestock nutrition and forage quality. The two organizations will work together to address the training needs as they are identified. These training sessions wouldn’t be “refresher” classes but rather more in depth training on subjects covered with the original training.

Others needing training will be new agency employees and people in the private sector such as veterinarians (that didn’t attend this training). This need has not been addressed at this time either. Some options to meet this need are: repeating this training effort in a few years, each agency providing the training through their agency staff training procedure, work with private sector groups such as veterinarians to have training on rotational grazing systems be a part of their “in-service” training sessions, utilize the ICN network in Iowa to provide state wide training on planning sustainable grazing systems.

115 people received training on Planning Sustainable Grazing Systems through this effort. This was an excellent effort and in a 2-year period increased the number of people that can give some degree of planning assistance from 22 to 115. However this has only “scratched the surface” of the potential number in the state. Brian Peterson and Dan Morrical provided the leadership to develop and implement this training effort. As previously mentioned they have reported to SIFLC on the just completed training. They have expressed a desire to conduct meetings in 2001-2002 for everyone that participated in the Planning Sustainable Grazing Systems training sessions. These meetings will build upon the relationships and networks the training series initiated. If funding can be secured they intend to hold a series of one-day meetings throughout the state to reduce travel costs and time for the participants. These meetings will be an opportunity to update participants, expose them to any new technology and focus on specific training needs identified by participants.

In addition Dan and Brian will keep SIFLC up-to-date on future training needs, methods to meet those needs, and opportunities for SIFLC to be involved in future training efforts. Education of producers and the agriculture professionals assisting them are essential for improved management of grasslands. SIFLC wants to be a partner in the education and technological transfer of information to producers to help make grasslands and the entire farming system a more sustainable enterprise.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.