Iowa Beef Center director column

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Dan Loy in The Cattleman Magazine

July 2017

Cover Crops and Stocker Cattle

As the popularity of using cover crops as a tool to improve water quality through nutrient retention and improve soil health increases, the practice also represents the opportunity for both extending fall and spring grazing for cow-calf operations and providing an early spring source of silage for cow-calf and feedlot operations. In addition to acres planted by cattlemen, this still leaves thousands of acres of potential cover crops planted by cash grain operators.

One model to utilize forage grazing from cash grain producers uses stocker cattle. In any year 1-million to -3 million cattle are grazed on wheat pasture in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. While potential grazing duration will be less than the 90-120 days typical for wheat pasture, three to six weeks of grazing would not be unrealistic for cover crop grazing by stockers, depending on the season and forage. As with any grazing system, fence and water may be a limitation but one that can be overcome if they can recoup the costs over time through custom grazing income. Contract arrangements for cash grain producers and stocker operators would be very similar to summer grazing. For more on this see our recent fact sheet Pasture and Grazing Arrangements for Beef Cattle.

Patrick Gunn, Extension cow-calf specialist and an important member of our team, left us for a new position at Purina Animal Nutrition last month. Patrick is a technical consultant in the eastern Corn Belt and returns to his home in Indiana. In the last four years Patrick has grown in this position and was a rising star among Extension cow-calf specialists in the U.S. I appreciate the opportunity to work closely with him as his colleague and friend for the last four years. I can speak for all of the IBC faculty and staff in wishing him the best in the future and thanking him for his contribution to our programs. We only hope we can find another talented professional to fill his shoes.

We have some exciting educational opportunities coming up for you in August.

On Aug. 1, there will be a training session in Ames for producers who have purchased the updated version of our Beef Ration and Decision Software (BRaNDS). The session will be held at the Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center. The morning will be dedicated to the standard edition and the afternoon will feature the professional edition.

Aug. 2. The ISU McNay Research Farm annual field day will be held. Look for updates on ongoing research projects including cover crop grazing, deworming systems and supplementation of amino acids for reproduction.

Aug. 8-10. A Feedlot Short Course will be held in Ames. In addition to ISU faculty and staff, Dr. Robbi Pritchard of South Dakota State University and Dr. Dan Thomson of Kansas State University are featured in this program. Attendance will be capped at 30 so register early.

Aug. 25. A feedlot meeting focusing on safety issues for confinement producers is set at Fuzzy’s in Wellman.

Finally, for cow calf producers interested in various systems of raising cattle in Iowa we’re holding a Beef Cow Systems project bus tour Aug. 29-31. The “Cow Caravan” will be three, single day bus tour of cooperators of the IBC Cow Systems project. Producers range from year round graziers to nearly 100% confined systems. This is a great opportunity to see how producers make these widely varying systems work. Buses are provided and travel will begin and end in Ames each day. A block of rooms is reserved at the Quality Inn. Check our website for details.

The IBC at Iowa State University serves as the university’s extension program to cattle producers. Our center comprises a team of faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. We work together to develop and deliver the latest in research-based information to improve the profitability and vitality of Iowa’s beef industry. If you’d like to be notified of updates on progress of research projects or programs that might be coming to your area, please subscribe to our “Growing Beef” newsletter by following the link on our website, If you have a question, use our “Ask our Experts” link. Also, feel free to call us at 515-294-BEEF or email us at You can also follow @iowabeefcenter on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.