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Cattle Help Restore Native Iowa Prairie

Cattle Help Restore Native Iowa Prairie

Farmer near Maxwell in central Iowa uses cattle to restore and rejuvenate native prairies on county conservation land along Skunk River. You can learn more at August 6 field day.

Central Iowa cattle farmers near Maxwell, Bruce and Connie Carney, are using their herd to help the Polk County Conservation board to restore and rejuvenate prairies at the Chichaqua Bottoms Wildlife Area along the Skunk River.

The Carneys' cattle are just searching for a good meal, but in doing so, they are helping to clear prolific grasses, which cause problems, such as reed canary and switch grass and are making way for native prairie forbs and flowers. This increases plant diversity that is essential to restoring the area's historical wetland and prairie habitat.

Come learn how cattle and other animals could be the key to a healthier Iowa landscape at a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day being held Saturday, August 6, from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The day will begin at Chichaqua Bottoms Wildlife Area and move to Bruce Carney's farm, both near Maxwell in central Iowa.

Public is invited to PFI field day at farm near Maxwell, Iowa

This multi-year project teams public agencies with Iowa farmers who own goat and cattle herds and is funded through a competitive grant awarded to Iowa Heartland Resource Conservation and Development by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The Chichaqua project involves about 460 acres that have been grazed during the summer since 2008.

A herd of 100 cow-calf pairs, owned by Carney and his neighbor Jeff Boyd are returning the prairie to a more natural state, while a herd of 36 goats, owned by Deb and Eric Finch of State Center, browsed an oak savanna from 2008-2010, clearing away unwanted buckthorn. Loren Lown, natural resource specialist for the Polk County Conservation Board, says, "The goats primarily browse, which means they eat most everything including twigs and branches, which helps to clean up the land. Cattle graze on non-native grass species in the reconstructed prairie. This allows other types of plant growth and forage production."  

Question: Is animal impact good or bad for the environment?

While the animals are grazing the Chichaqua Bottoms, herd owners have time to stockpile forage or hay, build new fences and rest their home pastures for optimum grazing conditions.

"There are a lot of amazing additions to Chichaqua this year: cotton wood seedlings, forbs and warm season grasses are exploding," says Carney. "I' can't wait for people to see this and decide for themselves whether animal impact is good or bad for the environment. There is a lot you will learn by attending."

The public is invited to this FREE event, "Grazing Cattle to Increase Biodiversity", which will be held at the Chichaqua Bottoms Wildlife Area, 8700 NE 126th Ave., Maxwell, IA 50161 and then moving to the Carneys' farm, 13602 NW 96th St. Maxwell, IA 50161. A potluck will be held, starting at 5 p.m. Beef, drinks and tableware will be provided. Bring a side dish to share. Call the PFI office at 515-232-5661 if you have questions.

This field day is free and is open to the public

Directions to Chichaqua Bottoms Wildlife Area Longhouse: From I-35: Take Exit 96 (Elkhart); go east through Elkhart on NE 126th Ave. At the T-intersection, turn north onto NE 72nd St. which turns into NE 134 Ave. Turn south on NE 80th St. 

Directions to Carney Family Farm: From Chichaqua, turn east on 134th Ave., go 2 miles. Turn left onto NE 96th St. and go ¼ mile. Carney' is first house on left.

PFI and its members will be hosting more than 30 field days in 2011. Most field days are free, and everybody is welcome to all of them. For a copy of the 2011 Field Day Guide, you can call the PFI office at 515-232-5661 or down load a printable PDF at

This field day was made possible with funding from the Iowa Beef Center and the Story County Soil and Water Conservation District. Practical Farmers of Iowa also recognizes the following sustaining sponsors: Albert Lea Seedhouse, American Natural Soy, Iowa Farmers Union, ISU Extension, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), Seed Savers,  USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, in addition to the following major sponsors: Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA), CROPP Cooperative of Organic Valley/Organic Prairie Family of Farms and Iowa State University Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture.

A number of different agencies are helping sponsor this event

This project is in cooperation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Heartland Resource Conservation and Development, Polk County Conservation, Iowa State University Extension, Drake University, Iowa Audubon Society, Jeff Boyd, Bruce Carney, Deb and Eric Finch and Norm McCoy. Funding in 2011 provided by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Polk County Conservation.

Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is an open, supportive and diverse organization of farmers and friends of farmers, advancing profitable, ecologically sound and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture through farmer-to-farmer networking, farmer-led investigation and information sharing. Farmers in our network produce corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. For additional information, call 515.232.5661 or visit

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