Field & Feedlot

Field & Feedlot is a monthly newsletter of current educational topics written by Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach specialists in Northwest Iowa.

May 2021

Nitrogen Management for 2021 by Paul Kassel, Field Agronomist

Feedlot Forum, BQA Certification and More Coming Up in June by Beth Doran, Beef Specialist

Successful Mortality Composting by Dave Stender, Swine Specialist

Timing First Crop Harvest of Alfalfa with PEAQ by Fred Hall, Dairy Specialist, and Joel DeJong, Field Agronomist


Nitrogen Management for 2021

Paul Kassel, Field Agronomist

The 2020 growing season had its challenges. However, nitrogen management was not one of the major challenges. A relatively dry spring and dry early summer minimized N losses. Dry weather did limit corn grain yields in parts of the state, especially where corn followed corn. Dry weather persisted into fall and early winter – and many farmers were able to complete fall anhydrous ammonia application.

However, recent spring seasons – especially 2018 and 2019 in northwest Iowa - created challenges for N applications. Those challenges led to field losses of N for many farm operations. Even though dry soil conditions currently persist in northwest Iowa, it is not unreasonable to think that wet conditions might return in the spring and early summer of 2021.

First, farmers need to check the Corn Nitrogen Rate Calculator (CRNC) ( to confirm N rates for 2021 corn production. The CRNC uses Iowa-based research data, current N prices and anticipated grain prices to determine profitable N rates for Iowa corn farmers.  

Next, make plans to adjust that plan if excess rainfall occurs this spring or early summer. Research conducted at Iowa State University have indicated a need for additional N if rainfall exceeds 16 inches from April 1 through June 30. Make plans to apply additional N if rainfall in early to mid-June appears to be approaching the 16-inch April to June rainfall total. Also consider injection or incorporation of the in-season N application. Sometimes dry conditions follow wet conditions, making the in-season N application less effective. 

The recent increase in N costs and the increased value in corn grain prices have caused some folks to question N rates. N applications, however, will still return about $250 per acre in increased corn yield for an investment of $60 per acre of N application (based on $4.60/bu corn and $0.42/lb of anhydrous ammonia).

Some farmers may be using poultry manure for a nitrogen source for the first time in 2021. Poultry manure is a good source of N and other nutrients for a corn crop; however, not all of the N that is indicated by manure analysis is plant available. First year nutrient availability for N in poultry manure is 50 to 60 percent. Poultry manure that is not soil incorporated will have an additional 15 to 30 percent loss in N content.

These are some factors that may impact N management on your farming operation in 2021.


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Feedlot Forum, BQA Certifications and More Com

Beth Doran, Beef Specialist

Feedlot Forum 2021will be at the Terrace View Event Center in Sioux Center on June 29. Built grassroots up, Feedlot Forum focuses on issues critical to beef feedlot producers and cutting-edge technology available from agri-business professionals.

This year’s theme is “Producing and Marketing in Today’s Era,” and features the following speakers and topics:

  • Designing and Implementing Feedlot Implant Strategies – Wes Gentry, nutritionist for Midwest PMS.
  • Digital Dermatitis – Old Disease, New Research – Terry Engelken, DVM with ISU Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine.
  • Managing Newly Received Calves – Dan Thomson, chair of the ISU Department of Animal Science.
  • Regulatory Solutions to Cattle Marketing – Panel discussion (Brad Kooima, CEO of Kooima Kooima Varilek Trading, Inc.; Matt Deppe, CEO of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Assn.; Cora Fox, Director of Government Relations - Iowa Cattlemen’s Assn.).
  • Cattle Market Outlook: National and Iowa Perspectives – Lee Schulz, Extension livestock economist at ISU.

Each topic is especially relevant. With cash corn price hovering around $6 per bushel, profitability is strongly affected by protocols that increase feed efficiency and optimize animal health. Market price is also key to profitability, and events, such as the Holcomb, KS fire and COVID-19 skewed prices. Consequently, the beef industry is fervent about market volatility and market transparency.

Registration opens May 1 and closes June 21.Participants may register online at or through the traditional mail-in registration process. Registration, which is $25 per person, must be prepaid. Due to COVID-19, walk-ins are not allowed, and facemasks will be required unless regulations relax.

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Certification Sessions- BQA has three goals: 1) To help producers improve the quality and management of their cattle, 2) To raise consumer confidence in beef, and 3) to expand U.S. beef in international markets. Although voluntary, some market outlets (packers and local auctions) require BQA certification for finished cattle. 

To help producers meet these protocols, BQA trainings will be offered from June through December. Trainings currently scheduled include:

  • June 1 – 10 a.m.-Noon, Royal Community Center
  • June 10 – 10 a.m.-Noon, Sac County Fairgrounds 4-H Building, Sac City
  • June 16 – 5 p.m.-8 p.m., Emmet County Fairgrounds, Estherville

RSVP’s are due two days in advance of the training to be attended. For information about these and future trainings, contact Beth at or call 712-737-4230.   

Beef Improvement Federation Symposiumwill be June 22-25 in Des Moines and focuses on genetic improvement throughout the beef chain. The program and registration are available at

New Publications- Available at

  • 2021 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey – A3-10
  • Livestock Enterprise Budgets for Iowa – 2021 – B1-21
  • Livestock Risk Insurance Plans for Cattle Producers – B1-50


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Successful Mortality Composting

Dave Stender, Swine Specialist
712-225-6196 or

Unfortunately, animals sometimes die in a livestock production system and proper disposal becomes necessary. Usually this is not an issue as most livestock producers have operating procedures in place such as rendering, incineration, burying or composting. However, there are a couple of situations that could force a change in standard procedures. An operation may want to enhance biosecurity by eliminating rendering truck stops at the pig site or a problem at a rendering plant could limit service, for example. 

But the biggest consideration is the possibility of a foreign animal disease. For example, African swine fever has been spreading around the world, and as international travel opens up, so does the risk of spreading a foreign animal disease. Hopefully it never happens, but if a foreign animal disease (FAD) infects animals here, livestock producers will be forced to do things differently. The first response by authorities to a local FAD outbreak will be to stop transport of all animals, including dead animals on route to the rendering plant. This stop movement will last at least 3 days and possibly longer. Livestock producers will be tasked with how to manage dead animals during the shutdown. 

One of the best options to deal with livestock mortality during a shutdown is composting. The only challenge is the learning curve to successfully compost dead animals. To address this problem, a new publication was written to help beginners. One of the big worries is odor, another is leachate (water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents). Both can be solved easily by selecting and managing the co-compost materials. “Field Tips for Successful Composting,” will help livestock producers understand the composting process and identify key points critical for success. This publication is available for free download at It points out that decomposition requires nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and moisture for optimal tissue breakdown. Mortality composting is different than regular composting unless you grind the carcass. During composting bacteria must grow quickly to create enough heat to destroy pathogens and break down carcass tissue. Because pigs are high in moisture, it is important to have a deep, absorbent, yet porous material to eliminate leachate while providing oxygen for the process. “Field Tips for Successful Composting” outlines how to set up the base, how to make the pile biologically active, how to cover the carcass to shed rain, and how to choose an organic co-compost material that will act as a biofilter to stop any adverse odors.

For more information, download the publication or contact Dave Stender at or 712-225-6196.


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Successful Mortality Composting

Fred Hall, Dairy Specialist

Joel DeJong, Field Agronomist

Timing first crop alfalfa harvest by calendar date does not usually work well. Spring climates vary from year to year and fields managed differently also affect spring regrowth. Different varieties, age of stand, fertility, last season’s cutting schedules, fall harvest or not, all influence the rate of regrowth in spring.

Since the first cutting usually has the highest yield with 35-40 percent of the year’s total crop, it is important that it is the quality forage your operation needs. If the first cutting is taken at a very immature stage it can be difficult to feed because its fiber level is too low for most high producing cows plus it can lower the life of alfalfa stands. Timely cutting permits aftermath growth to begin when temperature and soil moisture are favorable for plant growth and generally increases total yield per acre.

PEAQ, which stands for predictive equation for alfalfa quality, is a quick and easy method to assess when individual alfalfa fields are ready for harvest based on a forage quality estimate. All you need is a yardstick and Table 1 in ISU Extension publication CROP 3141 (available for free download at PEAQ provides a RFV estimate for the standing crop. It is critical that you do not forget to subtract from your standing crop RFV reading in Table 1 by either 15 RFV units for a haylage harvest or 25 RFV units for a hay harvest to account for anticipated forage quality loss from harvest losses that typically occur. If you are targeting alfalfa haylage for 150 RFV, you would harvest when Table 1 for PEAQ reads 165 RFV (bud stage alfalfa, stem height 27-28 inches). Typical alfalfa quality targets are 150 RFV for milking dairy herds and 125 RFV for heifers, stocker cattle, and lactating beef cattle. Weather forecasts and allowing proper drying time should also be factors when deciding when to harvest alfalfa.

This spring, ISU Extension Agronomist Joel DeJong and Dairy Specialist Fred Hall will be providing some PEAQ readings from alfalfa fields in Plymouth and Sioux counties online at You will be able to track these postings over time, but we strongly encourage that you take PEAQ readings from your own alfalfa fields for best assessment of harvest time.

If you are interested in monitoring your own fields, here are the steps to make the evaluations yourself.

  • Step 1: Choose a representative area in the field and mark it so you can come back to it for each reading.
  • Step 2: Determine the most mature alfalfa stems in the area. Determine if the most mature stems are vegetative, bud or flower stage.
  • Step 3: Measure the tallest stems in the area. The tallest stems may not be the most mature stems. Measure from the soil surface to the tip of the stem. Straighten the stem for an accurate measure of height.
  • Step 4: Based on stem maturity and stem height, estimate the RFV of standing alfalfa crop using the PEAQ Fact Sheet at
  • Step 5: Subtract 15 to 25 RFV units to account for harvest losses during the haylage or hay harvest process, respectively to estimate harvested quality.
  • Step 6: Determine your optimum harvest time using the PEAQ estimate, your livestock forage quality needs, considerations of upcoming weather forecasts favorable for harvest or not, and the general assumption that RFV drops about four points per day.

For more information in Northwest Iowa, contact Joel DeJong at 712-546-7835 or Fred Hall at 712-737-4230.


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Other resources:

Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues. Or, visit to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment.

COVID Recovery Iowa offers a variety of services to anyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual counselors and consultants provide counseling, family finance consultation, farm financial consultation, referral information and help finding resources for any Iowan seeking personal support. Iowans of all ages may join groups online for activities and learn creative strategies for coping with the effects of the pandemic. COVID Recovery Iowa will announce upcoming programs on the website and via all social media to help Iowans build coping skills, resilience and emotional support. To request support, go to

Finding Answers Now. As Iowans deal with disruptions to their families and communities, Finding Answers Now provides information to help you cope with concerns about stress and relationships, personal finance, and nutrition and wellness. Visit the website at

211 is a free, comprehensive information and referral line linking Iowa residents to health and human service programs, community services, disaster services and governmental programs. This service is collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide confidential assistance, stress counseling, education and referral services related to COVID-19 concerns.

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