Through our Livestock Program, we work with farmers to conduct on-farm research, hold pasture walks and field days, and host educational events based on priorities identified by our livestock farmer members.
Practical Farmers’ Livestock Program represents a diverse suite of livestock farmers, encompassing beef cattle, swine, poultry, sheep, goat and dairy operations. Many of these farmers are raising livestock on pasture and practicing regenerative farming practices such as rotational grazing, livestock and crop integration and grass finishing.
Through the Livestock Program, we seek to help members become more profitable and sustainable in their operations by organizing events and conducting research based on member input and priorities. Grazing cover crops, diverse perennial and annual forages, feeding small grains to swine and soil health through livestock integration have been identified as priorities in recent years.
We believe livestock keep farms and communities in balance. PFI’s founder, Dick Thompson, is remembered for saying “When the cow leaves the farm, the oats and hay crops leave also and the decline of rural communities has begun.”
Research is one of the key components of PFI’s mission. Farmer-researchers in the cooperators program envision and implement on-farm research projects with the assistance of the livestock coordinator. Data is analyzed and reported each winter at the Cooperator’s Meeting. Current research projects include pasture monitoring and improvement, grazing cover crops, swine feeding trials, recordkeeping projects, small ruminant mineral feeding trials, experimenting with poultry rations; among others. Research reports can be accessed below. Interested in becoming a cooperator, or have an idea for a project? Contact Meghan at Meghan@practicalfarmers.org or (515) 232-5661.
Field days and pasture walks
PFI believes in farmer-led learning and information-sharing. The most popular part of our programming is the field day offerings. Members host the events on their farms, providing not just tours but open and honest information about their management practices, what has (or hasn’t worked), and their plans for the future. Field days sometimes feature hands-on opportunities such as poultry processing, fence construction, and tree planting. See our Field Day Guide for more information regarding upcoming dates or our Livestock Field Days flyer.
Workshops, webinars, and conferences
The Annual Conference in January is the yearly pinnacle of PFI events. Both PFI members and invited speakers share their knowledge and expertise over nearly three days of workshops and lectures. Past invited speakers include Gabe Brown, Neil Dennis, Todd Churchill, Greg Judy, Jim Elizando, Abe Collins and Jim VanDerPol.
Workshops are offered just prior to the Annual Conference and occasionally throughout the year. Past workshops include basic background information on soils, Holistic Management, composting, permaculture, financial record keeping and tractor and equipment use.
Introduction to Holistic Management Workshop
This upcoming three-day workshop in February, taught by North Dakota ranchers Joshua and Tara Dukart, will take a deep-dive into the holistic management planning process used to make every day decisions. Holistic management believes in understanding our ecosystem as interconnected cycles to allow us to more effectively work with nature to improve the health of our land, animals, people, environment and finances.
This goal-setting and decision-making process provides farmers interested in more regenerative farming methods with the tools you need to improve the land, your business and your quality of life.
Throughout the year, PFI holds farminars; webinars featuring expert and novice farmers paired up to discuss a specific topic. Farminars are recorded and archived for future viewing, so even if you miss the premier event, you can check them out later! Viewers are able to ask questions of the pair as the experienced farmer offers insights to the other. Past farminars include raising and marketing hogs through Niman Ranch, genetics and selection in beef cattle, profitable poultry production, meat pricing, and getting started in dairy farming.
PFI owns four livestock scales that may be borrowed by members for use on-farm. We also have several soil sampling probes and a penetrometer, and have a generous long-term loan of a refractometer for Brix measurement. Contact Meghan for more information.
Several factsheets have been prepared to assist livestock farmers in managing their operations. Click on the links to download the sheets.
- Enterprise Budgets for Livestock Operations
- Enterprise Budget Spreadsheet
- Lease considerations for grazing cover crops
- Measuring Cover Crop Biomass
- Contract Grazing of Cover Crops Factsheet
- Livestock and Cover Crops
- Herbicide Use and Cover Crops
- Corn Herbicides and Grazing Restrictions
- Soybean Herbicides and Grazing Restrictions