MCGREGOR, Iowa — For some people, the notion of using cattle grazing as a tool to help wild bird populations may seem strange – but not for grazier Phil Specht and farmland owner Mary Damm.
Phil and Mary both manage grass-based livestock operations near McGregor – Phil operates a grass-based dairy, and Mary owns Prairie Quest Farm, the farm of Phil’s late brother, Dan Specht – and actively manage their land and animals for grassland birds like bobolinks and meadowlarks. These iconic birds of Iowa’s prairie ecosystems were once common, but their numbers have drastically declined, in large part due to habitat loss, Mary says.
“Grassland birds have declined by 75 percent in the past 50 years, in part from the conversion of diversified farms with long-rotation crop plantings and livestock to intensively managed farms of corn and soybeans,” says Mary, who is also a prairie ecologist. “However, some grassland birds can successfully nest and raise young on rotationally grazed livestock farms. Bobolinks have nested on the pastures and hayfields of Prairie Quest Farm for the past decade, and their nesting success has been researched for the past two years.”
Mary and Phil will discuss how they use managed grazing to support bird conservation at a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day they are hosting on Thursday, June 22, from 2 to 5 p.m., near McGregor (12082 Iris Ave., a few miles northwest of town). The event – “Using Managed Grazing and CSP to Enhance Biodiversity” – is free to attend and will feature a potluck and bonfire afterwards to celebrate the summer solstice. Meat will be provided; guests are asked to bring a dish to share.
Following the bonfire, guests are invited to camp overnight to maximize birdwatching opportunities (campsites will be primitive). Please RSVP for the meal, and if you plan to camp, to Debra Boekholder, (515) 232-5661 or email@example.com, by Monday, June 19. The field day is sponsored by Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Niman Ranch.
Phil and Mary will discuss their on-farm research into rotational grazing practices for bobolink nesting success, including pasture management, productivity and diversity, and soil health. They will also discuss how they enrolled in Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) activities that promote livestock grazing for nesting grassland birds and allow planting of native warm-season grasses and prairie forbs in cool-season pastures and along farm borders.
In addition, Phil will discuss his grazing management for bobolinks and the connection with his late brother, Dan, and will lead a walk into the fields to see and hear bobolinks. Other speakers will include Paul Skrade, ornithologist in the Department of Biology at Upper Iowa University, who will talk about grassland bird conservation and birds that visit the farm, with a focus on grassland birds; and Helen Leavenworth, soil conservationist with the Clayton County Natural Resources Conservation Service, who will discuss the Conservation Stewardship Program.
“We hope guests will learn how a grass farm is a working ecosystem,” Mary says. “We also hope they will learn practical cattle grazing and pasture management techniques that are conducive to beef and milk production – as well as habitat for the declining, but once more common, grassland birds.”
Phil Specht uses rotational grazing to produce high-quality pasture and build the soil on his grass-based dairy farm, and Mary Damm owns the farm of the late Dan Specht, where Dan raised grass-finished beef cattle for many years. Since Dan’s death in 2013, Phil and Mary have continued Dan’s legacy of caring for the working landscape – producing beef and milk while protecting and improving the environment, especially for bobolinks and other grassland birds.
Directions from Monona: Drive east out of town on County Road B45 / Plesant Ridge Road for 6 miles. Turn right (south) on Iris Avenue and go 1 mile. The farm will be the first on the left (east) side of the road.
From Marquette: Drive west through Marquette on IA Hwy 18 and turn north on Co Rd B45 / Pleasant Ridge Road for 5 miles. Turn left (south) on Iris Avenue and go 1 mile. The farm will be the first on the left (east) side of the road.
Practical Farmers’ 2017 field days are supported by several sustaining and major sponsors, including: Ag Ventures Alliance; Albert Lea Seed; Center for Rural Affairs; Fertrell; Gandy Cover Crop Seeders; Grain Millers, Inc.; Iowa Beef Center; Iowa Environmental Council; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy; Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE); ISU Extension and Outreach; La Crosse Forage and Turf Seed; Lemken; Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; MOSA Organic Certification; Natural Resources Defense Council; Organic Valley / Organic Prairie; Riverside Feeds, LLC; The Scoular Company; Trees Forever; Unilever; University of Iowa College of Public Health (I-CASH); Upper Iowa Audubon Society; USDA: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture; and Welter Seed & Honey Co.
— Practical Farmers of Iowa
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