Cows or Plows?

Denise Schwab, Beef Field Specialist, Southeast Area

Problem Statement: 

More and more cattlemen are questioning whether to continue in the cow herd business or plow up their forage and pasture land to plant high priced corn and soybeans.  While this decision may increase cash flow and profits in the short term, what are the long term impacts?  Factors such as soil conservation, business flexibility, tax liability, and many others need to be considered making this a complicated decision.

Programmatic Response: 

A series of education materials, scenarios and models were compiled in the summer of 2007 to assist producers in answering some of these questions.  Two workshops were held in eastern Iowa in February and March to share this information and assist producers in making decisions related to forage versus crop production.  Partnering in the programs were the Iowa and Jackson county NRCS offices, the Price Creek Watershed project, Elk River Watershed project, and the Jackson County Veterinary Association.


Fifty-five producers from eleven counties attended the two workshops.  An end-of-meeting evaluation was completed by 33 participants. 

Seventy-nine percent said they learned some new techniques and 18% said they learned a lot of new techniques to improve their pasture productivity.  Twenty-five percent said they were reminded of a lot and half were reminded of some pasture management techniques that they havent used in recent years.  One producer said the most beneficial thing he learned was it pays to fertilize and improve pastures and keep the rotation up.  Another said the most beneficial thing learned was the return on rotational pastures

Thirty-six percent said they learned a lot and 61% said they learned some new ways to stretch pastures using supplementation.   One participant said the most important thing he learned was the percent of waste with different feeding and storage methods.  Another said the most important thing learned was the aspects of corn co-products as a feed and he plans to feed co-products to his cow herd in the future.

Nineteen percent said they increased their understanding a lot and 75% said they increased their understanding some on the costs of improving grazing management techniques. 

Thirty-two percent said they learned a lot and 65% learned some techniques to protect pastures in short forage years. 

Twenty-eight percent said they learned a lot and 69% learned some new information about cost share opportunities for grazing management.

When asked to give a rating on the overall quality of the program, they scored it 3.23 on a 4 point scale.

One producer said he learned that he should consider eliminating his fall calving herd to reduce stored feed costs.  Another said he learned the duration of the unfavorable economic outlook for a cow herd compared to crops may be short lived and maybe we shouldnt jump too fast.  One producer said Ill understand my renters point of view.

Participants were asked how they will apply what they learned, and one said I will give some consideration to about a two year crop sequence and then reseeding the pasture and take advantage of the current economics.

Producers were asked to identify two objectives they will work on as a result of attending this program.  Some of the responses included:

Following the workshop three producers asked for additional information and feed costs comparison tables, and five called for additional ration help.

April 16, 2008

144 Cowherd enterprise efficiency

Page last updated: April 16, 2008
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,