Improving Profitability for Cow-Calf Producers

October - December 2002

Gary G. Guge , Harrison county extension education director


Harrison County has a land area of 696 square miles and 445,310 acres in west central Iowa . There are 294,195 acres devoted to crop acres, leaving a balance of 151,115 acres of pasture, timber and roads. Harrison County producers have over 60,000 acres of timber that provides little return to the farm operation. Economic and Federal conservation laws have limited the producer's ability to clear land of timber for increased crop production. 

In the past five years the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Natural Resources Conservation Service and other conservation groups have begun to change their philosophy toward utilizing timber and prairie lands for beef cow production. This slow change in attitude has provided an opportunity to conduct demonstrations on establishing increased pasturelands via establishment of oak savannas and by demonstrating prairie re-establishment through the use of intensive grazing management in place of only utilizing controlled burning for prairie restoration. The Federal EQIP program has also helped in providing some cost share funding to entice cow-calf producers to adopt intensive grazing management principles.


Harrison County Extension has joined with area agencies to provide a demonstration on oak savannas and prairie restoration to assist producers in observing the value of these practices. Golden Hills RC&D, NRCS, Loess Hills State Forest (DNR) and extension worked cooperatively in securing grant funds for the oak savanna project. The Loess Hills Forest DNR staff provided labor and equipment for clearing trees and brush from two sites in northern Harrison County . Three methods were used to gain information on costs. One site was cleared totally by hand labor. A second site utilized herbicides to kill undesirable trees and undergrowth and a third site utilized dozer equipment and tree shearers to remove unwanted plant materials. All three areas were seeded to warm season grasses that can be utilized by producers with their cowherds.

Three "Pasture Walks" were scheduled on the sites. The first pasture walk was held on July 31, 2001, so that producers could view the oak savanna projects as the work progressed and could see what the areas looked like prior to clearing. A second pasture walk was held on September 10, 2001 to view a local producer's efforts to regenerate native prairie production in the Loess Hills to utilize the land for beef production. A tree shearer was demonstrated for removal of Eastern Red Cedars from the pasture. The third pasture walk was held on August 1, 2002 so that producers would have the opportunity to observe the oak savanna project after the warm season grasses were becoming established. Participants at an ISU Forestry Field Day to be held on October 17, 2002 will also have the opportunity to view the oak savanna project.


Attendance at the pasture walks was 50, 38 and 75 respectively.

The impact of this project will take many years to complete and observe success. Cow-calf producers were provided an opportunity to hear about and observe new concepts of importance to the profitability of their cow-calf operation. Some have learned how they can increase the productivity of native loess hills pastures by providing an environment conducive to increased production of native grasses. NRCS reports that they have had increased interest in producers signing up for EQIP projects and extension has had an increase in producers seeking additional information. Doug Johnsen has purchased a second tree shearer to help keep up with the increased demand for his services.


Page last updated: July 10, 2006
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