Alternative Forages for Cattle Is the Focus of Field Days

Iowa beef farmers will explain how they use forages on their operation

April 16, 2021, 12:44 pm | Denise Schwab, Sherry Hoyer

AMES, Iowa – Results of a recent Iowa Beef Center evaluation of extension grazing programs showed that while 80% of respondents already incorporate cover crops (winter annuals) into their farming enterprise, there’s an overall interest in additional research on adding forage alternatives to existing cattle production systems.

Those findings led to a two-year project on utilizing cool and warm season annual forages into the grazing or stored feed system in cattle operations.

Iowa State University Extension Beef Specialist Denise Schwab is involved with the study, led by ISU Extension and Outreach staff, and said the project begins with three field days over the next few weeks. Cover crops.

“Two field days are in east central Iowa and the third is in south central Iowa,” Schwab said. “All three begin at 7:30 a.m. and will conclude by 9 a.m. so producers can get back to their planting tasks.”

The events are open to everyone, and offer coffee and donuts or breakfast, depending on the location. Participants are asked to RSVP with the location they plan to attend to ensure adequate materials and refreshments. Call the IBC at 515-294-BEEF or email with your name and number of participants, or if you have questions about the events.

The field day events, locations and details follow in chronological order. Plan to meet at each location at 7:30 a.m.

Wednesday, April 28. (Jack Smith farm, 26129 Tivoli Lane, Epworth. Coffee and donuts.)

  • Background: The Smiths have seeded winter cereal rye on most of their crop acres for use as both winter and early spring grazing. They have both drilled and broadcast seeded the rye following corn harvest, and have created a combine attachment that spreads the seed just ahead of the corn head. Cow-calf pairs and developing heifers will graze these fields until soybeans are planted, provided the weather cooperates.
  • What you’ll learn: Hear from the Smiths and ISU Extension and Outreach staff about current research, view the combine attachment, and observe cows grazing rye.

Monday, May 3. (Don and Bill Swanson farm. 6077 100th St., Ottumwa. Coffee and breakfast.)

  • Background: The Swansons have integrated a winter cereal rye cover crop on many of their row crop acres. They seed the rye cover crops with a drill following harvest and will graze the rye in the fall and spring with their cow-calf herd.
  • What you’ll learn: hear from the Swansons and ISU Extension and Outreach staff about research utilizing cover crops as a forage source, and observe the cows grazing rye.

Tuesday, May 4. Amana Farms. (The field is located about one mile north of Main Amana on Highway 151, or straight east of the Amana RV Park and Event Center. Coffee and donuts.)

  • Background: Amana Farms has a spring seeded cool-season annual yield plot that includes 10 varieties of oats, barley, triticale and peas. The plots were planted on April 2 and will be chopped for silage in May.
  • What you’ll learn: Hear about the objectives of the forage research, additional forage research and tips for incorporating annual forages into the cattle feeding system.

This research and demonstration project is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2018-70027-28586 and is part of the North Central Extension Risk Management Education program.

The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about IBC, visit


Original photo: Cover crops.

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