Kathy Voth is a featured livestock speaker at Practical Farmers’ 2018 annual conference; will lead session on teaching cows to eat weeds

For Release: December 21, 2017


Tamsyn Jones | Outreach & Publications Coordinator | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | [email protected]

AMES, Iowa — For many graziers, good pasture management centers around “grass farming” – promoting a mix of grass species while controlling weeds. But Kathy Voth wants to challenge farmers to think of weeds differently: as a valuable source of food for cows that is abundant, nutrient-dense, resilient and economical.

Kathy worked for 12 years with the Bureau of Land Management, working with ranchers, university researchers and agency staff to develop solutions that help communities live sustainably in their environment. In 2004, she developed a method, based on principles of animal behavior, for teaching cows to eat weeds.

“Our thoughts about what animals eat really restricts us and them,” says Kathy, who also helps publish “On Pasture,” a weekly online grazing magazine serving 100,000 readers a month. “Most people think cows eat grass, sheep eat forbs and goats browse brush. What it comes down to is animals eat what they’ve learned to eat.”

Kathy argues that teaching cows to graze weeds simplifies management for farmers, saves money and improves a farm’s overall resilience. She also cites how perceptions of what cows naturally eat has changed over the centuries, and how the focus on grass today is likewise rooted in cultural practices.

“In the 1750s to about 1850, people thought cows ate carrots, beans, potatoes and turnips – things we’d never think of feeding them,” Kathy says. “That pointed out to me that cows are flexible. It’s people who are inflexible. Plus – nobody knows this – weeds are more nutritious than grass. They are basically the equivalent of alfalfa or better.”

Kathy will teach sessions on this and other topics at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2018 annual conference, “Revival,” Jan. 19-20 at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. Register at http://pficonference.org, or contact Erica Andorf: [email protected] or (515) 232-5661. Those who pre-register by Jan. 11 will save $10 per day. Special rates are available for students and PFI members.

  • In “Teaching Cows to Eat Weeds,” she will share what scientists have discovered about how animals choose food, and how graziers can train cows to eat weeds in just seven hours spread over eight days.
  • In “Separating Science From Pseudoscience,” Kathy and co-presenter Rachel Gilker, her partner in “on Pasture,” will discuss how farmers can make sound decisions about what to spend their time and money on, using examples of products and services being sold to farmers and ranchers.
  • In “Q&A With Kathy Voth and Rachel Gilker,” farmers will have an opportunity to get their individual grazing questions answered.

The conference also features a keynote address from renowned English sheep farmer, James Rebanks, and numerous other livestock sessions, on topics ranging from swine genetics to adding beef cattle, livestock guardian dogs to livestock insurance, and more:

  • Farming the Sun: The Ecology of Chemical Energy
  • Solar-Powered Livestock: From Plants to Animals
  • Traditional Methods of Accessing Capital
  • The Shepherd’s Life: Soil, Sheep Dogs & Social Media
  • Soil Health and Grazing – Can They Coexist?
  • Swine Genetics Made Easy
  • Q&A: Hiring Migrant and Seasonal Workers and Year-Round Employees
  • Balancing Quality of Life and Direct Marketing by Crunching Numbers
  • Q&A With James Rebanks
  • Expanding Operations to Add Beef Cattle
  • Livestock Guard Dogs 101
  • Land Access: Pitfalls and Potential
  • Learning From On-Farm Research: Livestock
  • Livestock Insurance: Identifying Risks and Risk Management Tools

Keynote Address: James Rebanks, author of The New York Times bestselling memoir “The Shepherd’s life,” will deliver the keynote address this year. James raises native Herdwick and Swaledale sheep, and a British cattle breed called Blue Greys, in the mountains of northern England.

In his address – “An English Shepherd’s Vision to Revive Rural America” – James will share what it’s like to farm using old ways in the modern world, both the challenges and opportunities. He’ll discuss how traditional ways provide many of the answers we need for a farming future in which the efficacy of antibiotics, wormers, pesticides, herbicides and oil may all be reduced or in scarce supply.

Soil Health Short Course: Those who want to gain an in-depth understanding of soil health and the role played by soil microbes and farm management practices can sign up for a pre-conference short course – “Soils: Cultivating a Deeper Understanding” –  that runs Thursday, Jan. 18, from 1-6:30 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 19, from 8-11:30 a.m., at the Scheman Building.

The course is divided into four sections that move from the basics into more advanced topics. Sections will explore the soils of Iowa; the role and influence of soil microbes; the impact of cropping systems and strategies for building soil health; and biological soil-quality testing methods. All participants will receive a workbook to follow the presentations and take notes. Certified crop advisors can earn 7.5 CEU credits by attending this course (CEU credits are available at 10 other conference sessions).

This year’s theme of “Revival” emphasizes the degree to which healthy soils, extended crop rotations, diverse forms of agriculture and abundant opportunities for the next generation are vitally connected with thriving rural communities, healthy ecosystems and vibrant rural economies.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2018 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Applegate Natural & Organic Meats; Clif Bar & Co.; Grain Millers; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Niman Ranch; Premier 1 Supplies; and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit http://practicalfarmers.org.