Beef Cow Herd Efficiency: Accessing Grazing Acres from Recreational and Wildlife Lands

H. Joseph Sellers, Field Specialist-Beef, Southwest

Problem Statement:

Pasture acres available to cow calf enterprises are decreasing in Iowa.  Many southern Iowa grasslands are owned by landowners who are most interested in recreational or aesthetic uses of their farms.  Most of these types of farm have been lost to grazing by area producers, even though a growing number of wildlife and conservation experts believe wildlife habitat can benefit from planned grazing.

Programmatic Response:

Extension staff have partnered with local NRCS and DNT staff, along with support from the Iowa Beef Center, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and the South Central Iowa Area Partnership to develop programming for landowners and producers interested in cooperating on grazing and the benefits to grasslands and wildlife. 

A Leopold Center funded project surveyed custom graziers, and found that over 50% of the current custom operators would expand their services if more land was available.  Carl Neifert was hired as a contract coordinator on this project and continues with ongoing efforts. An additional survey of participants of the “Beef Up Your Forage Management” workshops, conducted in 2008, found that 48% of respondents would like to access more grazing acres, and 68% were interested in pursuing grazing on leased land to benefit both wildlife and livestock.

Programs developed as a response to this demand included –

Work with Polk County Conservation Board, the Leopold Center, and area farmers grazing prairie land on the Chicauqua Bottoms in Polk County (three year project).

Continuing the Leopold Custom Grazing Project, staff planned and delivered three workshops with Laura Paine from Wisconsin, discussing benefits of grazing to wildlife areas. (Two producer/landowner sessions, one staff session - fall 2008.)

Work with local stakeholders to submit three grant applications to start educational programs and demonstrations of wildlife and grazing benefits.  Leopold Center pre-proposal not accepted; SARE producer grant with Ron Dunphy pending; ISU on-farm demo project for Ron Dunphy and Steve Radakovich farms funded.

Work with local DNR and NRCS staff to plan and deliver four “Pro-Ag” sessions (Creston, Leon, Chariton, Mount Ayr) on the concepts behind cooperation between landowners and cattlemen and the benefits to wildlife habitat.   Over 85 professionals, producers, and landowners attended these sessions, funded by the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee, the Iowa Forage and Grasslands Council and the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. 

Work with PFI to start a “grazing cluster” in the Creston area to network producers interested in grazing and wildlife.  Using US-FWS funds from PFI to support the group and plan programming.  The group identified Greg Judy from Missouri as a speaker, and funds from PFI, Leopold, and Iowa Beef Center supported his three presentations in early March.  Meeting evaluations found over 80% of participants learned three or more new concepts of value to their operations, with over 70% placing more than $500 of value to these new practices.

Co-chaired the Grazing, Wildlife and Environment subcommittee of the Leopold Center Grass Based Livestock Working Group, with a proposal successfully funded for a grant of $8600 to develop case studies and education on grazing and wildlife benefits.


A great deal of cooperation between local producers and landowners as well as wildlife, conservation, and livestock professionals has been fostered.  Development of effective demonstration sites, case studies of existing partnerships, and educational programs will build on these early successes.


144  Iowa Beef Center: Improved Beef Cattle Production Efficiency

Page last updated: April 6, 2009
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