Meghan Filbert

Livestock Coordinator

I grew up in Council Bluffs and always dreamt of being a vet, so attending Iowa State was an easy decision. During my years at ISU, my interests shifted towards livestock nutrition and international animal agriculture. Through study abroad opportunities, I traveled to many different parts of the world studying animal production systems. After graduating, I worked in the nutrition lab at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, and then left Iowa to attend graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

I received a master’s degree from Cornell in nutritional toxicology, studying mycotoxin contamination in peanuts and corn. During grad school, I worked closely with agriculture extension staff and became interested in the diversity of farms in the Northeastern US. After graduation, I took a position as a dairy/livestock extension educator in the Catskill Mountains.  Working for extension in a rural county with many dairy farms, I became a dairy calf health specialist. The county I worked in is part of the NYC watershed and my work on farms focused on manure and pathogen management for water quality.  I helped dairy, beef, sheep and goat farmers plan and design livestock facilities, organized farmer education events, conducted on-farm research and collaborated on whole farm management plans.

I couldn’t be more excited to be back in Iowa and working for PFI, as I’ve been admiring the organization from afar for many years. I look forward to learning from farmers and contributing to sustainable livestock production in the region I’m most passionate about.

Blog posts

Are you grazing cover crops this spring, or plan to in the fall? If so, it’s important to check and see if your corn or bean herbicides have grazing restrictions. Some common herbicides do not allow for grazing of cover crops or crop residue.

If you’re grazing covers this spring, look back at what herbicides you applied to those fields in 2016. If you’re planning on planting and grazing covers in crop fields in the late summer, plan your upcoming herbicide application appropriately. Before you spray, read labels to ensure it’s safe to use your cover crops (and your crop residue) as livestock feed.

Goats are becoming increasingly popular for managing unwanted vegetation because they provide a ‘green’ alternative to pesticides while benefitting the animals and land. This project evaluated the use of goats to control invasive species, such as honeysuckle and multiflora rose, and invigorate native savanna growth. A research plot was established for comparing the effectiveness of goats – goats browsed certain areas and were not allowed to browse in others.

Penny Perkins, an ecologist specializing in land rehabilitation, conducted this project in 52 acres of timber near Ogden, IA. “Goats can be a viable, practical, and affordable tool to maintain timber stands; a tool that landowners should take advantage of,” stated Penny.

Read the full report here: Using Goats to Control Invasive Species

Timber that goats browsed is shown on the right. Goats help control invasive species.

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Grassland bird populations in Iowa have been in decline, but studies have shown that conservation of birds can be facilitated in landscapes by introducing grazing disturbances at appropriate stocking densities.  Bird species that have been threatened, such as the bobolink, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, and the eastern bluebird, nest in grasslands, which can be provided by rotationally grazed pastures.

For the last several years, Bruce Carney, a cattle grazier in Maxwell, has been observing diverse bird populations in his pastures. Bruce lives a quarter of a mile away from Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt, a wetland and prairie conservation area, and wondered if his pasture provide adequate bird habitat, similar to that at Chichaqua. “I started seeing bobolinks in my pastures and was curious why they are coming to my 300 acres when there are 10,000 acres of wildlife conservation down the road,” said Bruce. The objectives of this research project were to determine if properly managed pasture could replicate the bird habitat of a restored prairie and how pasture with perennial plus annual plant species effects bird populations.

You can read the full report here: Monitoring Birds in Rotationally Grazed Pasture

Grace Baumgartner, student at Drake University, performs bird counts in Bruce Carney’s rotationally grazed pastures.

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All across Iowa, the landscape is starting to be dotted more and more with green fields in winter time. Just a few years ago, very few Iowa farmers were using cover crops in between their corn and soybeans. Today, many farmers say they want to use cover crops to reduce soil erosion from their fields to protect their black gold. Other farmers, especially those located in the headwaters of the North Raccoon watershed – the water the feeds Des Moines Waterworks with drinking water for the residents of Des Moines – have reducing nitrates at the top of their mind.

Clean water is of highest priority and cover crops are one of the practices that have the biggest impact. Cover crops come with an upfront cost, but some farmers are using cattle to make it pay. On November 10th, a group of 35 farmers, landowners, and agency employees toured two farms near Lytton to see how Wes Degner and Ben Albright are finding the cash in their cover crops.

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Over 30 farmers visited the Mingo Locker on October 15, for the second field day in a two part series. In September, the group visited Carney Family Farms to see grass-finished beef cattle that were ready for market. These cattle had been ultrasounded to determine carcass characteristics, which can be read about here. At the locker, we were able to get an up close and personal look at four of the animals we had seen a couple weeks before. The cattle were harvested three days before we arrived, and each was assigned a USDA beef quality grade. We were then able to compare the quality grade evaluation to the ultrasound data, to see how well they matched up.

Field day attendees get suited up to inspect grass-fed beef carcasses at the Mingo Locker in Mingo, IA.

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In late September, 28 farmers visited Carney Family Farms to learn about a project Bruce Carney has been conducting with PFI. Before the field day, Bruce ultrasounded a group of his grass-fed cattle twice, at one year and two years of age, to determine carcass characteristics. Each animal was measured to estimate ribeye area, fat thickness and intramuscular fat percentage (marbling). Bruce, and other farmers, want to know if these measurements can help them decide when a grass-fed animal is adequately finished and can be taken to market. It’s not as easy to visually tell when a grass-finished animal is truly finished, as it is with a grain-fed animal. Two handouts using live animal ultrasound and evaluating beef carcasses with ultrasound were given out at the field day.

The group of attendees looked at 14 cattle, seven steers and seven heifers, who are all about two years old and going to be harvested in the next six months. Then, the cattle were ranked from most to least finished, and the rankings were compared to the ultrasound data. The group learned that what you see visually doesn’t always match up to the data. The four most market-ready cattle chosen by visual inspection didn’t necessarily match up to having the highest scores in every measurement taken by the ultrasound, although they did tend to have some of the largest ribeyes.

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Field day attendees rank a group of heifers for market readiness on September 28, 2016.

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Bud Williams, famous for designing the ‘Bud Box’, was a cattle handling expert known throughout the world. To continue his legacy, Bud’s daughter Tina, and her husband Richard McConnell, of Hand ‘n Hand Livestock Solutions, have been imparting Bud’s knowledge on farmers who attend schools taught throughout North America. Tina and Richard were in southwest Iowa to teach both livestock marketing and proper stockmanship techniques. A group of 20 farmers participated in the course over the course of four days.

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Farmers ready to practice their new-found cattle handling skills on their herds!

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Four generations of the Wilson family welcomed 65 guests to their field day on August 13. The focus of this year’s event at Seven W Farm, located in Paullina, was on diversity – poultry, pigs, dairy, beef, sheep, corn, beans, hay, small grains – and the role of each family member on the farm.

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Grow It, Graze It, Love It – four generations of Wilsons sport Seven W Farm t-shirts. From left to right; back: Robin, Erin, Torray; middle: Dan, Lorna (holding James), April (holding Nora); front: Audrey

Going Organic

The day began with Dan and Torry explaining why they decided to go organic in 2006. Dan started having allergic reactions to the ag chemicals and Torray said he just doesn’t like the smell of them. “God gave us six senses and we should use them,” said Torray. Most of the farm is now certified organic, with 100 acres still in transition. As the Wilson’s spoke about this, it was hard to hear over the engine of a plane crop-dusting the adjacent farm.

Pastured Poultry 

April Wilson came back to the farm two years ago, and assumed the role of poultry producer. The Wilson’s raise broilers and layers; the meat and eggs providing cash flow for the farm and always selling out at local farmer’s markets. The Wilsons do their own processing; harvesting 450 Cornish Rock crosses per year and selling them whole. At one point they tried raising heritage breed chickens, but their customers preferred the meaty breasts of the Cornish Rock’s, so they went back to raising them. One thing they’ve learned from raising Cornish Rocks is that they need to get the birds on pasture by three to four weeks of age in order for them to become good foragers. If you wait longer, the chicks can become a bit too dependent on grain-based feed. April put together an expense sheet that lists expenses and profits to share at the field day, which is shown below and can be accessed here: Direct Marketing Poultry Continue reading

As the old saying goes, pigs are the mortgage lifters on the farm, which has held true at Crooked Gap Farm. The Book family has been farming for eight years; primarily raising Hereford hogs, but also heritage breed Dexter cattle, Katahdin sheep, meat rabbits and pastured poultry on 40 acres outside of Knoxville. 100% of the products they produce are direct marketed, mostly to Des Moines, Pella, and Knoxville. These sales provide most all the income for this family of seven (Ethan is a pastor as well), while building a future for the Book’s children.

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The Book family in front of the John Deer 4020 that’s been in the family for three generations. From left to right Hannah, Issac, Rebecca (holding Josiah), Jonathan, Ethan and Caleb.

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During the last week of July, 1,200 cheese lovers descended on Des Moines to attend the American Cheese Society’s annual conference. This event is held in a different location each year, and thanks to The Cheese Shop of Des Moines and to Stephanie Clark, ISU Food Science Professor, it was held in Iowa this year, and titled Cheese in the Heartland! “It’s great to have people here in Des Moines to see that Iowa has a cheese industry and that people would come from all over the Americas to Iowa to taste great cheese,” said Stephanie, who was interviewed for the Des Moines Register.

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Blue cheese champions!

After three days of conference sessions, the culmination of this event was the Festival of Cheese, where over 1,500 types of cheese were available to sample. Each cheese was entered into a competition and judged, and the winners of each cheese category were designated with ribbons. The Festival of Cheese  highlights our nation’s booming artisanal cheese scene, and was open to attendees of the conference and the general public. Those who attended were treated to a room full of the best cheeses being made in the Americas (cheese from Canada and South America were also featured).

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