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Montgomery County farmer Harry Cope will talk about how he “moves the feedlot from the barn to the field” at the Missouri Livestock Symposium, Dec. 7-8 at Kirksville Middle School. University of Missouri Extension sponsors the free event.
Cope received a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Farmer/Rancher grant to research skip-row planting techniques with cover crops for sustainable growing. He has been experimenting with interplanting soybeans with corn to provide feed for his cattle and sheep operation on his Missouri Century Farm in Truxton. The crop is not harvested, and livestock is taken to the field to graze.
Cope staggers four rows of corn with two rows of long-season soybeans with a six-row planter. The bean pods provide mineral balance to the high-protein corn for his cattle and sheep. “We want to grow as much energy as we can,” he said.
By not harvesting the crop, Cope saves money. Taking the cows to the feed, rather than the feed to the cows, eliminates costs such as grinding, storage, transportation and manure management. “It lets us stop our cost of production at planting,” he said.
Cope also grows milo for strip grazing for his cattle. The milo is not harvested with a machine, as in a typical operation, and Cope says this provides 150-200 cow-days per acre. “It’s the cheapest way to winter a cow,” he said, noting that the cost is less than one-third that of hay.
Cope has experimented with this for more than a decade. The milo rows alternate with cover crops that improve the health of the soil in addition to providing feed for livestock. He blends four classes of cover: 1. Warm-season grass; 2. Warm-season broadleaf (not necessarily a legume); 3. Cool-season grass; and 4. Cool-season broadleaf.
“These fields are my feedlot,” he said.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White visited Cope’s farm this summer to see his drought-stricken crops and to view his unusual approach to cover crops. Cope’s corn, used to feed livestock, was estimated to be producing 0.5 bushel per acre by Federal Crop Insurance Corp. adjusters.
Cope said he worked closely with MU Extension agronomy specialist Richard Hoorman of Montgomery County on this project and many others. “Rich is a very good resource and researcher,” Cope said.
At the symposium, Cope will serve on a panel, “A Practical Look at Cover Crops and Soil Health,” with J.R. Flores of NRCS, Kelly Nelson of the MU Greenley Memorial Research Center at Novelty, NRCS state grassland conservationist Doug Peterson, and David Otte, a forage manager at Green Valley Seed at Kahoka. The two-hour panel discussion begins at 10 a.m.