Cattle and cover crops: Better together

by | Nov 5, 2020 | 5 Ag Stories, News, Row Crop Run 2020

“…the black cows on the corn stalks and green cover crop, it’s a beautiful sight,” says Brendan Unkrich, of Swedesburg, Iowa, in northern Henry County. Unkrich’s dual purpose cover crops benefit his cattle herd and crop acres.

Unkrich first looked into cover crops eight years ago, as a way to feed his cattle herd.

“You’re always short on cattle feed. We (asked), ‘What’s another way we can start feeding cattle more, on a cheaper rate?’ We figured cover crops in the fall could do multiple things for us,” Unkrich says.

Unkrich raises seed corn, which presents another opportunity for cover crops. Some farmers plant soybeans in the isolation areas, while other plants cover crops. Unkrich found another way to make use of that space.

“We didn’t want to have to isolate every other year on those small corners. We found out sorghum is like a corn, so then we can put beans on the whole field. So what we do is put sorghum in those corners, hire a chopper to come in and chop it, and then put it into a bunker for cattle feed,” Unkrich says.

Unkrich recently turned his cow-calf herd onto his three-inch tall cover crop. He reflects on the excitement of releasing his cattle onto these fruitful acres each year.

“They want to get out of the pasture. So when I open that electric fence and they see that, there’s nothing stopping them. They get out there and kick like kids going out to a playground. It’s pretty exciting. The black cows on the corn stalks and green cover crop, it’s a beautiful sight,” Unkrich says.

Unkrich bought a John Deere seeder to broadcast cover crops. He still finds value in aerial seeding, and firmly believes Mother Nature plays a crucial role in establishment.

“This year I tried something new. I bought a seeder and planted 15-inch rows on seed corn ground, and it came up great. We’ve also done it with a fertilizer cart, with potash, and then vertical-tilled it in. Then we did one field with an airplane, to get it on sooner and to get heighth on it,” Unkrich says.

Unkrich plans to stick with the status quo, which includes cover crops for years to come. He adds, “We think they’re great,” and encourages other folks to look into them too.

“There’s funding to do it, so I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to try it. I understand there’s ground that it doesn’t work as well on, but every farmer has multi-levels of different ground, I think they could at least try it on. It’s like everything in farming, you have to try it once to see if it fits your operation,” Unkrich says.