Rotational Grazing & Cover Crops – A Match Made in Heaven
Tom & Jo Heidt – Lockridge, Iowa
Tom Heidt and his wife Jo moved from Wisconsin some years ago to farm in Iowa. They own K7 Herefords in Lockridge, Iowa, which is located in the Lower Skunk River Watershed Project Area in Southeast Iowa. The farm is a family affair with their children Shane Heidt, Patti Heidt, and Victoria Kypke, contributing to the business. They raise Hereford cattle, row crop corn, grow and bale hay, as well as rotational graze their livestock. They implement cover crops on their row crop acres and allow their cattle to graze on them in the fall and spring months once established.
Tom and Jo have implemented multiple water quality conservation practices on their farm - one of those being rotational grazing. Using a rotational grazing system “reduces runoff, creates higher production of forage growth, and keeps the manure concentrations to a minimum” according to Doug Ensminger, Henry and Jefferson County District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In addition to rotational grazing, the Heidt’s use cover crops, terraces and no-till to keep the soil and nutrients in place, rounding out their menu of water quality practices.
According to Tom, he implemented these systems for soil conservation purposes. They improve soil health and increase crop yield. The rotational grazing and automatic watering system have improved pasture utilization. In the coming years, Tom plans to use different cover crop cocktails to find what works best with his operation.
To install these conservation practices, the Heidt’s have utilized the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for fencing off ponds and installing water lines, the Resource Enhancement and Protection Practices Program (REAP), an IDALS (Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship) state cost share program, for terracing and tile work, and the Lower Skunk River Water Quality Initiative (WQI) Project cost share for cover crop implementation. Tom plans to use the Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Initiative (MRBI) funding to install a diversity of cover crops on his fields this coming fall. The MRBI is special EQIP funding awarded to the Lower Skunk River WQI Project this past October to aid in implementing water quality and soil health measures.
Tom’s philosophy as it relates to farming and the environment and in his words is that he’s “a tree-hugger to a point”. He doesn’t believe in killing trees for no reason. “Patience is important when it comes to rotational grazing”. When he was first introduced to the concepts of rotational grazing, Tom thought “they were crazy. But after giving it a go, I found the benefits of using this system”. Tom believes that there isn’t anymore “dirt being made. Every pound of dirt you lose is gone. It’s best to keep it where it is and build it back up. Cover crops help in doing this.”
The Heidt’s have been and continue to be instrumental as a partner with the Lower Skunk River Watershed Project. They hosted a Rotational Grazing Field Day in June of 2018 and have participated in cost share opportunities. They are an exemplary family proving that water quality and soil health can be a part of a successful livestock farming operation.