Published Aug 8, 2012

Field day recap: Better Grass and Fly Control: A Dairy’s Path to Profits

By Margaret Chamas

Hosted by Jeremy and Jodi Peake

Co-Sponsors: FHR, Northeast Iowa Graziers, Organic Valley, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Allamakee SWCD

August 4 2012


Who would’ve thought that anyone would be HAPPY to almost get rained out of a field day?!  Two dozen folks slogged through a fantastic storm on Saturday to visit Jeremy and Jodi Peake’s organic dairy in northeast Iowa.  Despite the glorious downpour, the group still participated in an excellent and engaging demonstration of various methods to control pest flies and to improve pasture.

Jeremy and Jodi Peake have been organic grass-based dairy farmers for 11 years, and also run a 1000-tree orchard.  Jeremy was more than willing to discuss their trials and tribulations, and was honest about the obstacles and slip-ups they’ve had.  At the moment though, he’s celebrating some successes.  Flies are a nuisance on any farm, but on a dairy where a bothered cow might kick off a milking claw and calves are kept indoors for a time, it’s especially important to keep the pest numbers down.  The Peakes have been using a combination of chemical, physical, mechanical, and management-based means to kill flies.  His first line of defense has been cleanliness.  Particularly in the calf pens, keeping the animals dry and clean is key to preventing flystrike.  Frequent pen cleaning, deep beds of absorbent material, and getting calves out to pasture quickly seem to help.  For the cows, application of a mineral oil-based fly spray from Crystal Creek both prevents flies from landing on the cows, and aromatics in the spray repel them long-term.  Oil-based sprays have worked better than water-based, Peake explained – others added that the thick, viscous oil prevents flies from gripping the cows’ hair and skin, and prevents them from breathing properly.  In the barns, ribbons of Mr Sticky tape crisscross the ceiling and snag many of the pests.  Fly trap drums can be moved around to areas of high cow concentration, and if baited properly, will lure flies to their doom.  His newest implement is a walk-through fly trap, which brushes flies off of cows and then tricks them into going behind mesh screen traps.  While requiring some labor and expense to construct, Peake likes the trap because it’s now labor-free.  By placing it in the laneway the cows use to get to the milking parlor, he gets “free” fly removal four times daily.

The rain did let up for a trip to the pastures.  While affected by the drought, Jeremy is still out grazing, but has changed his management to keep the cows comfortable.  Including shade and ensuring access to water keeps the cows eating and drinking, and has helped reduce the inevitable drop in milk yield.  An energy-free waterer is an easy way to keep the cows hydrated, both during the summer and winter.  Thanks to clever use of PVC pipe, he’s developed a gateless fencing system that has allowed him to keep water (based in the laneways) accessible to more pastures.

One of the hottest topics, despite the cool day, was Jeremy’s new keyline plow.  While the drought prevented its use earlier in the year, help from family and friends got it up and running for a quick in-field demo on Saturday.  Jeremy explained the theory and practice behind the Yeoman system, which draws water out of valleys and low-spots and helps distribute it to higher areas of sloped fields.  He demonstrated finding a key point and contour lines, which determine where the plow’s furrows should be oriented.  Over the next few years, weather permitting, he’ll start using the plow to break hardpans and open up the subsoil to air, water, and roots, promoting healthier and more productive pastures.

The Peake dairy is a showcase of innovation and adoption of new ideas and technologies.  Through management of the cows to ensure comfort and quality of life, they are rewarded with high-quality milk.  Flexibility and an eagerness to try new things are already reaping benefits, and many hope to come back in the future to see where the pastures and cattle are at.  And to try more of their amazing apple cider!

Resources and Links:

Barrel fly trap:

Walk-through fly trap: