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NRCS Helps New Iowa Farmer Develop His Grazing System

Cows use the fenced access ramp to drink water from one of three paddocks available to the pond. Photo: Jason Johnson, NRCS

Ryan Collins, center, with NRCS staff Laura Crowell (left) and LuAnn Rolling (right). Photo: Jason Johnson, NRCS
Ryan Collins, center, with NRCS staff Laura Crowell (left) and LuAnn Rolling (right). Photo: Jason Johnson, NRCS

When Iowa livestock producer Ryan Collins bought his 170-acre farm near Harpers Ferry, he knew from experience with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that the agency could help him plan a rotational grazing system. But he didn’t realize he’d get so much more assistance than that.

When he first contacted NRCS for assistance, Collins assumed he would only receive help with fencing for his new grazing system. Today, however, he works regularly with NRCS staff – including District Conservationist LuAnn Rolling – to develop and implement a plan that is helping him better manage his grasslands, keep his cattle healthy and productive, and protect the natural resources on his farm. As a beginning farmer, a group USDA considers historically underserved, Collins also received higher payment rates than most farmers for the conservation practices he installed.

“I didn’t realize there were so many practices available for funding through EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) until I started working with LuAnn,” said Collins. EQIP provides agricultural producers financial and technical assistance to implement structural and management practices that optimize environmental benefits on working agricultural lands.

Pond Access Ramp

One of the practices Rolling recommended, a limited-access ramp for ponds, is Collins’ key to watering his cattle. Design of the rotational grazing system called for three of five paddocks to utilize an existing pond for drinking water. Rolling also recommended fencing off the pond to prevent erosion and pond degradation, while allowing livestock to drink directly from it from a fenced access ramp. The ramp and fencing protect the water source from erosion and trampling, and keep cattle healthy by preventing foot rot and leg injuries.

Ryan Collins has 35 cow/calf pairs grazing his 170 acres near Harpers Ferry in northeast Iowa. They use this fenced access ramp to water for three paddocks. Photo: Jason Johnson.

The entire access ramp is 40-feet long with a gradual 8:1 slope. A contractor installed geo-textile, covered it with 3- to 9-inch rock, and topped it with 2- to 3-inch rock. The 15-foot by 15-foot drinking area is covered in water. “The ramp is very solid and stable, and won’t erode,” said Collins.

Other Practices and Maintenance

As part of the rotational grazing system, Collins installed more than 7,000 feet of permanent barbed wire multi-strand fence and 3,500 feet of permanent high-tensile fencing.

Collins is so pleased with the new conservation practices on his farm that he’s working with his father to implement some of the same practices on the family farm. “We are going to convert some cropland to pasture to more easily connect two farms for a rotational grazing system,” he said. They are also planning to install limited-access ramps on livestock watering ponds, as well as two new watering facilities.

Need help like this? Head over to your local NRCS office.






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