Why Do They Do That? Grassed Waterways

Have you ever driven past a crop field and noticed strips of grass in between the crops? Why do farmers leave those areas unplanted? What’s with those strips of grass in the field?

They’re called grassed waterways, grassed drainageways, intermittent drainageways, or a combination of similar terms. Though you may not be able to tell from the road, they do serve a purpose!

You may be able to tell by looking that they tend to be at the valley between two hills and curve with the landscape. This is by design. Historically, land used for row-crop production was plowed, tilled, broken up, and only planted during the summer months. This resulted in those low areas in the landscape eroding with rainfall.

There are different types of rain erosion, but rill and gully erosion are particularly relevant in this case. You maybe notice just in your yard that when there is an abundance of rain, it collects and travels through the lowest areas in the landscape. If that area doesn’t have plant cover or isn’t protected, the rain can carry away that soil, creating something like a small trench, or a rill. If left unchecked, it can get larger, creating a gully.

Photo from USDA archives depicting hillside erosion in the 1930s

To be clear, erosion is a natural process. It is how mountains and even the Grand Canyon were formed. However, it is a different problem when human processes, like over-tillage, push the processes to move faster, degrading land and water quality at the same time.

This is a problem for several reasons. As you can tell in the photo above, land that is heavily eroded is no longer useful for agricultural production. A tractor, or even a horse for that matter, cannot safely traverse that landscape. Precious topsoil has long since left the field.

This can also pose a water quality issue. As discussed in this blog post, some of the main concerns in water quality are high loads of nitrogen (nitrates) and phosphorus. On the chemical level, they reach waterways through different forms. Nitrogen becomes a nitrate, which is negatively charged and bonds with water. Therefore, water that has traveled through the soil profile quickly (like in drainage tiles) is a more likely source of this nutrient. Phosphorus, however, is a positively charged ion, which bonds directly with the soil particles. That means that when soil is eroded from the landscape, it is bringing phosphorus (among other things) into the waterways with it.

Photo from USDA archives

For these reasons, there have been conservation efforts focused around soil and water protection to help farmers implement mitigation strategies. Grassed waterways are just one of these strategies that can help with some of these problems.

What about grassed waterways specifically helps?

First, choosing the correct placement matters, to help mitigate the water erosion at the places the water would most like to erode.

Second, having that area constantly growing plants, like grasses, is beneficial. The living roots of the plants help hold the soil in place. The above-ground growth of the plant helps protect the soil surface from the force of the raindrops. The continuous plant growth also helps build soil structure and soil health, making it more resilient to severe weather events.

Third, the physical barrier of plant growth can help slow flowing water down. It helps give soil particles suspended in the water time to settle back into the earth, which can help reduce some phosphorus in the waterway as well as mitigating some turbidity.

Photo from USDA archives

So the next time you drive past farmland and see the strange-shaped grass patches, just remember that they’re there to help fight erosion and keep water a bit cleaner!


Why Do They Do That – Side Dressing

Throughout the growing season, farmers have to decide if and when they should apply fertilizers like nitrogen. If you’ve ever toured a farm or stopped in to the local coffee shop you might have heard farmers talking about ‘side-dressing’ their crop. What in the world are they talking about? Hint: it isn’t the latest fashion trend from Lady Gaga or that delicious ranch dressing on a Cobb salad.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for the growth of almost all plants. It is the major nutrient needed to carry on many of the metabolic systems of the plant including photosynthesis. Most fertilizers are labeled NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), with N, or nitrogen, being the first ingredient and in the highest concentration. Corn is notoriously a nitrogen intensive crop meaning that it needs a lot of nitrogen to grow and be healthy.

Farmers might apply fertilizer (manure, synthetic, or another source) in the spring of the year before planting so that the seed and the growing plant have nutrients available throughout the growing season. This method of broadcasting fertilizer across the entire field – called top dressing – makes it available as the plants begin to grow. But nitrogen is water soluble which means it can be absorbed by water (rain) and move through the soil and potentially into our waterways. We don’t want that. And farmers don’t want to see those valuable nutrients being washed away either. Plus, the fertilizer is also available for all plants (not just the corn) and weeds might start to grow rapidly causing other problems.

So, many farmers opt to apply fertilizers at specific times throughout the growing season, right when plants need them. Plants absorb most nutrients through their roots, so it is important to get the fertilizer onto the soil. Broadcasting fertilizer by spraying onto a growing crop isn’t ideal because some of that fertilizer might hit the leaves – not the ground.

To help solve this problem, the farmer puts on his engineering hat and tries to figure out how to apply fertilizer during the growing season, directly onto the ground where the plants need it. The solution is side dressing with drop tubes. Sprayer implements are tall tractors designed to drive over the tops of plants (up to eight feet tall) without damaging those plants. Their wide booms allow for the spray to be spread over a large area. Then from each of those nozzles, a tube can be attached all the way to the ground delivering that liquid directly onto the soil. The fertilizer is applied just to the side of each plant, hence the term side-dressing. The plant needs a lot of nutrients as it tassels and produces an ear of corn, and applying extra fertilizer right before that happens could really help the plant succeed.

Nitrogen is expensive and farmers want to figure out how to apply it in the best way. By applying it when the crop needs it, there is less chance that it will be lost and therefore less can be applied. By applying nitrogen where it is needed strategically, less is needed to be spread out across the entire field and therefore less is wasted. Hoses from the boom do this and minimize or eliminate any damage to the growing plants. Using this technique, farmers can see an increase of 5 bushels per acre up to 17 bushels per acre. Y-drops on the end of each hose further directs the flow of the liquid closer to the root zone of each plant instead of just in between each row. By using Y-drops, farmers can see an additional increase of one to 8 bushels per acre.

Because the tall sprayers allow farmers to spray while the crop is growing, and the tubes allow them to apply the fertilizer to the soil near the root zone, another added benefit is that this method of fertilizer application expands the time in which the fertilizer can be applied. Growing plants are hard to manage and a rainy summer or too dry summer can impact plant growth. This side-dressing method might expand a two week window of fertilizer application to four weeks. Farmers can better manage their fertilizer applications instead of making quick decisions to stay ahead of the weather or to balance other obligations.

This video does a great job of showing how the drop tube system works for side-dressing fertilizer. The whole process can be relatively quick and efficient for both the farmer and the corn!


7 Agritourism Destinations in Iowa

Before we go over my favorite agritourism destinations in Iowa, we should first discuss what agritourism is.

To me, agritourism is kind of a strange word. Agriculture and tourism don’t really sound like they go together. When I hear the term tourism, I picture something that belongs smack-dab in the middle of a city. I see a dad with knee-high socks, a fanny-pack, and a camera snapping pictures of the Statue of Liberty – not agriculture.

However, agritourism is when tourists can take part in and see farm or agriculture life that will profit the owner. It’s all focused on the experience that the consumer can get. There are many kinds of agritourism. Some include u-pick farms, farmer’s markets, day camps, and vineyards. Living in Iowa means that we are not short of any agritourism opportunities.

Every summer, Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation puts on many professional development workshops for teachers. Each workshop dedicates a day for tours of agriculture in the area. During my time with IALF this summer I’ve been able to experience agritourism first-hand. Check out our workshops here.

Here are some of my favorite agritourism stops that I have personally visited!

7. Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area – 

A national heritage area is a region of land advised by the National Park Services. Each heritage area dedicates its existence to telling the story of a historic event in the United States. There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas in the country focusing on assets such as mining, the Augusta Canal, Abraham Lincoln’s life, and others.  Silos and Smokestacks tells the story of American agriculture through different sites in the northeast corner of Iowa. These sites range from Eagles Landing Winery to Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum to Reiman Gardens to everything in between. Searching the Silos and Smokestacks website is a great way to find more agritourism spots in Iowa to visit!

6. Cinnamon Ridge Farms – 

Cinnamon Ridge Farms is a dairy farm located in Donahue, Iowa. They have 150-299 Jersey cows at any one time that produce some of the best milk in the United States for their breed. Cinnamon Ridge Farms is a robotic dairy, meaning they use robots instead of people to milk their cows! I was able to visit Cinnamon Ridge this summer, and I was amazed by the technology of the robots. How cool is it that the farmers can see exactly how many times a day each cow is being milked? And from that technology, they can tell if any of the cows are sick? If you want to see these milking robots for yourself, this farm gives tours, hosts meetings, and has day camps for students. Before you leave the farm, make sure to stop at The Country Cupboard. This self-serve store sells products derived from Cinnamon Ridge Farms and other local farms, including cheese, bacon, eggs and more.

5. Living History Farms –

Living History Farms is an outdoor historic interactive museum. Visitors will experience the advancements in farm sites over the last 300 years. As guests travel through time, they can see how Iowa was once full of fertile prairies and has been turned into productive farmland. The sites include historical information and interpreters that fully immerse themselves in the period they represent. These historically accurate sites re-create a snippet of what life was during the time of significant agricultural technology changes. In addition to touring the farm and town sites, there are many programs all year long. Some include historic baseball, historic cooking classes, historical dinners, and day camps. Even though the church at Living History Farms isn’t directly agriculture-related, it’s one of my favorite buildings because of the historical beauty. Actually, I’m looking to have my wedding here this winter!

4. Botanical Garden in Des Moines – 

The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden mission is “exploring, explaining and celebrating the world of plants.” Unlike some agritourism destinations, this botanical garden has education programs for all ages: youth, families and adults. When visiting the botanical garden, guests will have the opportunity to walk through an indoor and outdoor portion with plants blooming of all sizes and colors. My favorite part of the botanical garden is the conservatory. It’s great to visit during the wintertime because of the weather inside that the tropical plants need to survive. The conservatory is an 80 foot by 150-foot Plexiglas dome that you can feel the heat of the sun even in the dead of winter. After walking through the conservatory, guests can venture outdoors to visit the many other gardens. When visiting, don’t forget to stop at Trellis Café for lunch. They serve a locally sourced, plant-based menu that always is serving in-season choices!

3. Center Grove Orchard – 

I have been to several orchards and pumpkin patches over the years, but Center Grove Orchard is the one I keep finding myself going back to. I grew up going here every year as a child and even worked here for two years in high school. Larry D. and Pat Black’s family planted their first apple tree in 1986. More than 30 years later, one apple tree has turned into 20 acres of 6,000 apple trees of many varieties. Center Grove also has more than apples! Guests can also pick pumpkins, gourds, sunflowers and strawberries themselves, depending on the season. On the tourism side, they have a corn pool, an old schoolhouse, an apple school, jumping pillows and more.

2. Farmers Market – 

Farmer’s markets are a great place for consumers to see who is producing local products. When buying food at a grocery store, consumers only see the product and the packaging and decide to purchase the product solely on that. During farmer’s markets, consumers can have direct conversations with the farmers and producers of the product. They can learn more about the product and how it was produced. There are over 250 farmer’s markets in Iowa, but the most popular one is the Downtown Des Moines Farmer’s Market. It received a #2 out of 101 rating by the Daily Meal for the best farmers markets in America in 2013 and 2014. Every Saturday morning from May to October, downtown Des Moines floods with consumers waiting to purchase agricultural goods from over 300 locals from 50 Iowa counties.

1. Iowa State Fair – 

While some may argue that the Iowa State Fair has turned more into nostalgia and entertainment, agriculture is still at the core of the Iowa State Fair. In fact, their mission statement is “To celebrate Iowa’s agricultural heritage by providing a quality environment and facilities to further education and to offer entertainment and competition for all ages. Offer opportunities for individual growth for all involved.” The Iowa State Fair has always tied into agriculture for me. I don’t think I have ever missed a year (besides 2020), and my high school FFA chapter put on the Avenue of Breeds every year. My state fair experience in high school was always taking care of the livestock at the Avenue of Breeds and informing the public of animal agriculture. Livestock shows, educational demonstrations, live entertainment, attractions and food are just a few of the many activities held during the 11 days of the state fair each year. The Iowa State Fair is an excellent place for people outside of the agriculture industry to have exposure to livestock, agricultural products and where they can learn more!          

There are so many other great agritourism spots in Iowa that I missed. Let me know in the comments which ones are your favorite and which ones you plan on visiting!


You ‘herd’ it here first, demand for goat meat is increasing: Meat Goat Breeds

Photo by Reijo Telaranta on Pexels.com

Did you know? Approximately 60-75% of the world’s population eats goat meat. However, it comes in fourth in a ranking of most consumed meat worldwide after pork (36%), poultry (33%), beef (24%), goats/sheep (5%), according to the United National Food and Agriculture Organization.

In many parts of the world, goat meat is the primary source of protein. The American Meat Goat Association says that the U.S. meat goat industry is experiencing an average growth rate of 12% each year in production but is unable to keep up with consumer demand. Additionally, goat is the meat of choice among many Hispanic populations, and for immigrants from Bosnia, Sudan and other African, Middle Eastern and East European countries’ according to a Wallace’s Farmer article.

Nutritional Value of Goat Meat

Whether you call it cabrito (Spain), capretto or morcetta (Italian), birria (Mexican) or mutton (some U.S. areas), goat meat is gaining in popularity. It could be due to its availability at farmers markets, high-end restaurants, or incoming immigrant populations. But, it’s also due to its nutritional value.

Source: The Gourmet Goat Lady

Goat meat is a high quality, lean, healthy red meat. It’s been described as savory and less sweet than beef but slightly sweeter than lamb. It is low in fat and cholesterol, and leaner than poultry and other red meats. A 100 gram (3.5 oz) serving of cooked, roasted goat meat contains 143 calories, 27 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat, 3.7 milligrams of iron, 86 milligrams of sodium, and 75 milligrams of cholesterol, according to the USDA.

Curious about the cuts of goat meat? Check out the Gourmet Goat Lady.

Raising Meat Goats

Because of their size, goats can be raised virtually anywhere. Goats can tolerate high heat stress environments, which allows them to survive in more hostile locations. They require less land than cows, can eat lessor quality vegetation and still produce a higher quality product.

Demand for goat meat is rising due to increasing ethnic populations but more than half of the U.S. supply of goat meat is imported. In Iowa, meat goat and other goat inventory increased nine percent over the last year. Currently there are 38,000 head of meat goats in Iowa. Goat and sheep meat raised in Iowa is typically shipped to other parts of the United States, particularly to the eastern United States where there are larger ethnic populations.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the types of meat goats.

Boer Goats

Source: American Meat Goat Association (SNA Farms and Able Acres)

The most popular type of meat goat in the US. is the Boer goat. These goats are mainly white with a liver-brown head although they can also be solid red. It is the typical breed you see being shown at county fairs. Its development can be traced back to the early 1900s to Dutch farmers of South Africa. This breed of goat has a fast growth rate, excellent build, and is highly adapted to different environments. Mature does can weigh between 190-230 lb and mature bucks can weigh between 200-340 lb.

Kiko Goats

Source: American Meat Goat Association (Dr. Peischel)

‘Kiko’ is from the Maori word meaning flesh or meat. The Kiko goat was developed through cross breeding in the 1980s in New Zealand. Local feral goats were crossbred with imported dairy goat bucks like the Nubian, Saanen and Toggenburg breeds. Kikos began to be exported from New Zealand to the U.S. in the early 1990s for breeders looking to improve meat production of their goat herds. It is popular in the southeast United States due to good parasite resistance and motherability.

Mytonic Goats

Source: Oklahoma State University Extension

This is one of my favorite goats – the fainting goat! They first arrived in the U.S. in the late 1800s. Fainting goats have an inherited neuro-muscular condition that causes the goats muscles to stiffen when they are startled or very excited. Watch a fainting goat in action. Mytonic goats are quieter than other goat breeds. They can be short or long haired of any color or pattern. They tend to have more meat on them than other goat breeds yet don’t require as much feed input.

Savanna (or Savannah) Goats

Source: American Meat Goat Association

These goats are indigenous of South Africa. Savanna goats are relatively new to the United States and only came into this country in the late 1990s. It is a large framed, well-muscled goat with distinctly white color. The breed is adaptable to most environments. Does (females) weigh between 125 to 200 lbs, while bucks (male) weigh 200-250 lbs or more. Breeders can typically expect two to four kids (baby) goats per litter.

TexMaster Goats

Source: American Meat Goat Association (Pedigree International)

This breed of goat was developed in the mid to late 1990s by crossing Tennessee meat goats with Boer goats. The primary intent was to develop a goat meat to meet commercial demands such as low maintenance, rapid growth, higher meat-to-bone ratio, among other traits.

Spanish Goats

Source: American Meat Goat Association (Jo Jo Milano)

As the name implies, Spanish goats were brought to North America as a source of meat by Spanish explorers. Some of these goats escaped or were released as other sources of protein were found. These goats then became feral and have developed through natural selection. Since they had minimal management their size, body shape, ear shape, horns and other physical attributes are not consistent.

Have you tried goat meat? I love all goat cheese but haven’t yet tried goat meat (beef is definitely my favorite type of meat). Maybe I need to give goat meat a try. What do you think? Leave us a note in the comments section!

The last in this series on goats is goat fiber! Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post on the topic. Until then here are a few goat puns and jokes.

  • What do you call a baby goat that is sleeping? A kid-napper.
  • What do you call a goat swimming really fast in a lake? A motor goat.
  • Why are goats from France so musical? Because they have French horns.



Previous Goat Blog Posts

Unique Agriculture Commodities: Pearls

A few weeks ago, I was looking for inspiration for a #FridayFarmFact. I was trying to find something that was out of the ordinary and branched beyond the corn and soybean field. This led me to thinking about my time in Muscatine, Iowa. Muscatine used to be a hub for harvesting mussels from the Mississippi River to create pearl buttons. It was a whole town affair with pop-up button factories, and you can still find remains of the pearl button industry as you dig down into the soil. Though pearl buttons aren’t pearls (they are actually created out of the shells of mussels), it got me wondering, where do pearls come from, and are they truly as rare as people say they are?

What is a Pearl?

Pearls are biological gemstones that develop into a wide variety of colors (e.g., black, gray, silver, green, purple, blue, etc.). They form in freshwater and saltwater bivalve-mollusks such as oysters, clams, and mussels. These gemstones can develop naturally as an irritant enters the mollusk. In response to the irritant, the mollusk secretes enzymes and calcium byproducts to form a tissue known as nacre around the irritant that is resemblant to its inner shell, much like when we form a scar. Over the next 3-5 years the tissue continues to grow and deposits calcium carbonate in smooth layers creating what we know as a pearl. To simplify this, think of a pebble that might get into your shoe. Overtime, your body might develop a blister to help protect your foot from the pebble. Eventually, the skin of your foot would toughen up to prevent the pebble from hurting you. In the case of an oyster something as small as a piece of sand might be the irritant that gets in and causes the mollusk to start forming the nacre. Natural pearls are rare and finding a “perfect” pearl is even rarer. This rarity, and the demand for pearls, has sparked a market for the cultivated, or human induced, pearl.  

White and pink pearls
(photo courtesy of James St. John)

How are pearls cultivated?

As in most cultivation, pearl farmers do not reinvent the wheel; rather, they utilize and optimize what occurs when Mother Nature is left alone. Thus, the pearl forms in the same way that a natural pearl would, however, specialized tools and growing conditions are used in cultivation farms to develop the “perfect” pearl. Most pearl cultivation farms can be found in Japan, China, and Indonesia. These locations are ideal for cultivation because of the water quality, temperature, and nutrient availability. The cultivation of pearls can be broken down into six main steps (watch this VIDEO to see them in detail):

Step 1: Grow host oysters or mussels

Oyster or mussel sperm is placed in a tank with eggs (oyster or mussel) for fertilization and the development of a larvae. These tanks are carefully monitored for temperature, minerals, and acidity to make sure the mollusk will have the best conditions for growth. The late larval stage of the mollusk will cling onto the hanging mesh in the tanks. Feeding these mollusks 2-3 times a day allows them to reach the proper maturity to be transferred to open calm waters within a month. Here, the mollusks will grow until they are the proper size for seeding.

Life cycle of an oyster
(graphic courtesy of Wallace et al, 2008)

Step 2: Seeding

The first step of seeding is to create the seed, or nucleus bead. No, the seed won’t sprout a pearl, it’s not like a plant seed. In this process, a donor mollusk is cut open and a round nucleus bead is made from the shell. This little piece of shell (or seed) is surgically placed inside the mollusk with a piece of donor tissue (called a graft) and will serve as the irritant to start the pearl. This process takes steady hands and careful precision, so the mollusk isn’t harmed. The bead’s size will help determine the overall size of the pearl. I like to think of this process like priming a wall with paint, you prepare the wall so that the color in the end comes out the way you want it.  Same with seeding the mollusk.

Placing a seed and donor tissue into an oyster for pearl cultivation
(photo courtesy of Shawn Harguail)

Step 3: Rest and Recover

After seed surgery, the mollusks are placed in containers and back into calm open waters of the ocean or lake. As their wound heals, farm workers use technology to x-ray the mollusks to determine if the seed was accepted, and to determine the progression of the pearl. If the seeding was accepted, the mollusks are then hung either by a rope through their shells or laid in baskets for the remainder of the pearl making process.

Creation of the nucleus seed of an oyster (left) and pearl formation (right)
(illustration courtesy of C. Montagnani)

Step 4: Grow Pearl

As the pearl continues to grow, the mollusks are moved from cooler waters to warmer waters to ensure that the animal doesn’t die, and optimal pearl growth occurs. Throughout the growth process the mollusks are collected and cleaned to get rid of parasites that could damage the animals. This stage of pearl production can take anywhere from 10 months to 3 years depending on the size of pearl.

Hanging of mollusks for growing pearls in baskets (A) and on a line (B)
(photo courtesy of Simon-Colin et al, 2015)

Step 5: Harvest 

Mollusks are cut in half and the pearl is extracted from the meat. If it is an oyster, part of the meat may be conserved and sold as Ise-Shima, a delicacy in Japan. The pearls are washed and rinsed and sorted through to find the perfect pearls. It may take up to 10,000 pearls to find enough desired pearls to make a 16” necklace.

Harvesting of oysters
(photo courtesy of Asian Development Bank)

Step 6: Develop Product

Pearls require no polishing or shaping. After they are washed and sorted, they are exported to factories and shops where they are used to create a wide variety of jewelry such as rings, earrings, necklaces, and more.   

Example of a pearl necklace, a possible end product for cultivated pearls
(photo courtesy of HarshLight)

Pearls in the United States

Though most pearls are cultivated in Asia, we do have one freshwater pearl cultivation farm in the United States. Located in Camden, Tennessee, the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm was started by John Latendresse (1925-2000). Latendresse utilized the Washboard mussel, an indigenous freshwater mussel in the Tennessee river, and culturing techniques from Japan to cultivate the pearls. Through years of research and trial and error, Latendresse and his family perfected cultivating techniques and developed new ones to create pearls of varying shapes such as coins and duck wings. They started a business for their pearls, American Pearl Company, to branch across markets and industry. At the farms peak it was worth roughly $50 million. Today the farm is owned by Bob Keast, and though it is still an operational farm, most of the farm’s income is acquired through agritourism.  You can visit the farm and stay in one of their cabins along the bay, go on boat tours, hunt for pearls, or view and purchase pearls in their onsite museum.

My Takeaways

Natural pearls are still a rare find, however, the need to search the ocean and riverbeds for mollusks bearing gems has declined (and is illegal in some areas). The farming and cultivation of pearls has tremendously changed the market and rarity of the once sought-after pearl. Through the advancement of technology and biological understanding we are now able to meet the demand for such a valuable commodity in a more sustainable way. And though pearls may not be as rare as they once were, a perfect high-quality pearl still is.


A Day in the Life of a Seed Dealer

If you have ever flown over, driven through, or maybe even bicycled across the Midwest, you might have noticed the acres upon acres of crops that are planted in precise ways. Those crops are made up of hundreds of thousands of rows and those rows are made up of millions of individual plants. Now stay with me for just a little bit longer. Those millions of plants start off as seeds, purchased by farmers from … a seed salesman.

To get a better idea of what a seed salesman does, I reached out to someone who helps us order our seed, Mark Pogee of Rob-See-Co, a hybrid corn and soybean seed company in the western Corn Belt states. Rob-See-Co is an independent company built on simplicity, relationships, and technology.

Mark, who attended Iowa State University, says, “My whole life has revolved around agriculture.”

Previously, Mark managed a cooperative for nearly 13 years, was a regional sales manager for another seven years, and most recently he works for Rob-See-Co. Each of these positions have given Mark the opportunity to do what he loves best, to be curious. Each part of Mark’s day involves seeing and doing new things. Each day he makes sales calls (10-15 per day), meets new people, and arranges the delivery of seed. Through his job he also sets up seed plots, builds customer relationships, and works to find farmer/dealers who could store the seed until the planting conditions are just right in the fall.

He likes all of those different aspects of his job and loves having an office that is based in his truck.  He covers a 20-county area, and his travels can add up to a lot of miles. In fact, Mark was on his way back from the Missouri border when he took a break to call me and go over some notes he had jotted down to help describe his job. When out on the road, Mark also gets to support local business by eating at a different restaurant daily. 

Mark works with farmers and knows they have long hours before light and even sometimes after dark. Not everyone has times for a sales call, but Mark is tenacious. He keeps trying, catching his customers at good times – and stepping away to try again if the time is not right.

Being a good salesman requires knowing a lot about the product you are selling. Corn seed is categorized by different hybrids and soybean seeds are categorized by different varieties. Depending on the type of soil you have, the weather conditions that spring, the type of crop you planted last year, and even how many long days you will have in your growing season determine which hybrid of corn or variety of soybean you might purchase. Farmers often plant different hybrids and varieties on different parts of the same field to match the conditions of the soil. There are a lot of variables to consider. The technology of seed development gives farmers many options to choose from and many options for seed dealers to offer. Check out Farming by Numbers for more information on seeds.

Why should a farmer work with a seed dealer? Every year, Iowa farmers plant over 30 million acres of crops. And while that is a huge number of acres, each farm is only on average 345 acres. Individual farmers can get a better deal working with seed companies and dealers who negotiate for large-scale purchases.

In Iowa, seed is planted in the spring, but the summer is still a busy time. Farmers and seed dealers together look at fields, check on the progress of the plants, and try to troubleshoot for the next year. After a windstorm or other weather event, a field may look ugly. But crops are amazing at coming back. In the worst case scenario, farmers will need to replant. Mark says if the farmer has to replant it is a heart-wrenching decision. It’s never a good situation because they will have lost all of that time and money and the yields will have been greatly diminished. The cost of replanting can be high. A bag of soybean seed averages $52 and will cover one acre. Corn is more expensive at $285 a bag, but each bag covers approximately 2½ acres. The cost of a bag of seed accounts for the delivery, trucking, fuel, human resource costs, and the research that helped develop each kernel of corn or soybean seed.

Fall is also a busy time for a seed salesman. A seed salesman will join a farmer in their “office” (combine while harvesting) and spend time taking out the fields. Riding along during the harvest helps Mark to get an idea of how well the specific variety of seed did. It also provides Mark an opportunity to visit with the farmer about what next year’s planting needs may be. Seed companies must anticipate a year in advance what the farmer will need. Mark’s most important job is helping the farmer with decisions about what to plant. Most of his farming solutions are the result of years of experience and knowledge of the farms – and farmers- whom he is working with. He provides tried and tested seed choices to help give the crops the best possible start.

“Every year, you start over, and everyone is a new customer,” says Mark. “You can’t just assume because someone purchased seed from you in the past that they will again.”

One of a farmer’s most important decisions is what to plant. Seed dealers, like Mark, can help the farmer with those decisions – if they come at a good time.


You’re attending the 2021 National Agriculture in the Classroom conference. Now what?

We are so excited that you’re coming to Des Moines for the 2021 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference. We’ve been planning for a long time and can’t wait for you to experience our favorite state!

As a native Iowan myself, I wanted to help you get a feel for the locale. What restaurants will be close by the conference center? What are some major Iowa things to check out? If you’re bringing kids or meeting with family, what kinds of activities can you do together? What about some background on Iowa agriculture to prepare you for the traveling workshops? I’ve got you!

First, Iowa is solidly part of the Midwest. Temperatures during the conference will likely be 70 to 90 degrees F and humid. The conference will be in Des Moines, which is fairly centrally located in the state and at an interesting place geographically.

All of Iowa has been glaciated at one point or another. The north-central third of the state was glaciated very recently and remains the flattest part of the state with some of the best, richest, newest soil in the world. This glacier’s terminal moraine became the hill that our state capital was built on! So from the capital, if you drive north, south, east, or west, you can see different major geographic areas. More on our land formations here.

Because of Iowa’s rich soils, warm sun, and adequate rain, it has become a prime location for commodity row crops like corn and soybeans. Iowa is the top corn growing state and is either first or second for soybean production, sometimes trading with our pals to the east in Illinois. One of the major markets for these crops is feeding livestock, so Iowa also raises lots of pigs, laying hens, and beef cattle. Iowa is the top pork and egg producing state and is in the top ten in total cattle numbers. This lends itself well to a cycle where the livestock manure can then be used to fertilize the cropland that feeds the animals.

Some of these commodities you may see represented on the traveling workshops you have chosen. Other tours may show more specialty agriculture, from goats to grapes and schools to teaching farms. Iowa has a history of producing crops like apples and grapes, and has been growing the wine, beer, and spirits industries in recent years. In parts of the state where land is less flat, there are also more farms with grazing animals, like dairy cattle, goats, and sheep.

But do you want to get some recommendations on places to eat and things to do? Wait no more! Scroll down for the section headings you’re most interested in!


801 Chop House

For a fancy meal, consider 801 Chop House. This restaurant is housed in 801 Grand, an iconic building in the Des Moines skyline. This is just a 9-minute walk from the Hilton Des Moines Downtown, where conference goers are staying!

Fong’s Pizza

For a decidedly not fancy meal, go to Fong’s Pizza and get the crab rangoon pizza. It is amazing and weird and just an absolute experience. A real Des Moines metro oddity. Fong’s is a 10-minute walk from the conference hotel.

Spaghetti Works

You really can’t go wrong with Spaghetti Works. This is a great restaurant for a nice, sit-down meal with good Italian-American food. Just an 11-minute walk from the conference hotel!

Zombie Burger and Shake Lab

Zombie Burger is a local haunt that stays busy – for good reason. You can find some very ridiculous and delicious burgers (the Undead Elvis is my favorite) as well as milkshakes with cereal in them. Yeah.

Hessen Haus

As it might sound, Hessen Haus is a local German restaurant in a neat part of town close to the Iowa Cubs baseball stadium and the Science Center of Iowa. This one is about a 13 minute walk from the conference center.

El Bait Shop

El Bait Shop is a favorite casual dive bar also nearby Principal Park. They advertise the largest craft beer selection west of the Mississippi, and of course have food.

Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Company

At the heart of the Court Avenue district is Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Company. This restaurant has good food, good drinks, and is in a neat building in a cool neighborhood.

The Machine Shed

If you’re looking to drive, The Machine Shed is a great bet. This locale really leans into the Iowa agriculture motif with agricultural décor and even wait staff in overalls. Very good food and a nice little gift shop to boot!

Things to do nearby

World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

The World Food Prize, founded by native Iowan Norman Borlaug, is housed at the old Des Moines public library in downtown Des Moines. The building has been beautifully kept and includes excellent artwork and interactive educational displays. Check to see if a tour lines up with your schedule!

Des Moines Botanical Garden

Also downtown, we have a great way to learn about and see plants! Who doesn’t love that?

Iowa Hall of Pride

The Iowa Hall of Pride is housed very close to the conference center, and serves as a bit of a museum for how awesome Iowa is. Which is, of course, very true.

Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market

To get a good cross-section for local agriculture, you can check out the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market! The market opens on Court Ave on Saturday morning. So if you’re staying for the post-conference tour on Friday, you can pop by for breakfast before leaving town! It is said to be the second largest farmers market in the country (after Pike Place Market in Seattle, WA).

Any brewery or winery

This may seem broad, but local breweries, wineries, and even distilleries have become a large part in Des Moines Metro culture in recent years. Folks will often meet up at a local craft brewery to share a flight, eat some popcorn, and play trivia or giant Jenga. If you want to feel like a local, this is a great way to do it!

Family activities nearby

Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa is within walking distance from the conference center and has lots of great ways to engage youth. This could also be a fun stop to get ideas for your classroom!

Living History Farms

Living History Farms is about a 15 minute drive from the conference center, but really ties the agriculture and education pieces together. On site, there are several model farms from different points in history. There’s also a gift shop, and The Machine Shed restaurant is just next door!

Road trip ideas

Iowa State University

Iowa State University in Ames has a top-rated agriculture college, several teaching farms, and a campus designed by the same person that designed Central Park in New York City. I am very much biased, but there’s a lot of good stuff to see and learn at ISU.

The Shrine at the Grotto of Redemption

The Grotto is a monument built by a Catholic priest over several decades using a variety of rocks and stones. This stop tops my list of interesting roadside attractions in the state – and I think there’s an ice cream shop close by!

A Silos and Smokestacks partner site

The Northeast quadrant of Iowa is a National Heritage Area called Silos and Smokestacks. There are numerous partner sites in this area of the state that help tell the story of Iowa agriculture and industry. They range from Norman Borlaug’s boyhood home to local museums.

The Field of Dreams field

If you’re planning to drive east, stop at Dyersville before you leave! The original ball field in the corn field in the Field of Dreams movie is just out of town. Though the home is a private residence and the movie was not shot inside, you can visit the field, play catch, and snap some pictures.

John Wayne’s Birthplace and Museum

If you’re planning to attend the conference post-tour, you will already be seeing this stop! John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, which is not too far south of Des Moines. The home has been made into a museum, and they have just recently built a new museum to accompany the home! While down in Winterset, you can also find covered bridges from The Bridges of Madison County, wineries, a cidery, and more.

The Amanas

Originally a German communal society, the Amanas are now a tourist destination. There are several colonies, each with charm. In the Amanas, you can find wineries, breweries, bed and breakfasts, a leather shop, a woolen mill, a furniture store, several German restaurants, museums, and more. My top picks here are the Ackerman Winery (try the rhubarb wine), Millstream Brewery (you gotta get the black cherry soda), and the Woolen Mill.

No matter what you choose to do while you’re here, I hope you learn something and enjoy your time here as much as I do.


Why Do They Do That? Track Crop Progress

Around this time of year (April through June) it is common to hear or read news stories touting things like “86-percent of corn now planted, 67-percent of soybeans”. But what does that mean? Why does it matter? Who is behind these numbers?

In a state like Iowa, much of the economy is driven by agriculture. Very few people are directly involved in planting and raising crops. In Iowa there are approximately 85,300 farms. If every farm counts two people as farmers we can estimate there are 170,600 farmers in Iowa. Compare that to the state’s population of 3.155 million and we see that only a little more than 5% of Iowans are farmers. While this seems small, agriculture and agriculture related industries employ one in six Iowans or 17% of the workforce (400,000 jobs). Agriculture is responsible for adding $72.1 billion to the state’s economy, or 27 percent of the state’s total. We begin to see the ripple effect as this revenue and these jobs then help support other industries growing and continuing to thrive like manufacturing, finance, healthcare, education, and so much more. Agriculture has been called an engine for Iowa’s economy.

So, you could say a lot is riding on the success (or failure) of the corn and soybean crop. While it might seem like people in an urban setting are removed from the impacts of the farm, a failed crop (from droughts or floods or other factors) would have ripple effects that could lead to a downturn of the economy and we all would be impacted.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture that works with farmers to track planting of crops and the subsequent health of the crops and the quality of the harvest. One of the field offices is located in Iowa and works closely with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Iowa is broken in to nine districts. Each district is closely monitored and then data is compiled into a weekly report. The report details things like days suitable for fieldwork. If it is raining or if the soil is too muddy from rain, tractors and heavy equipment can’t be taken out into the field to plant or work the soil. Farmers have a limited window in which they can get seeds in the ground. Soil temperatures have to be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit for seeds to germinate. So too early in the year and the seeds won’t start growing. Crops also need to have enough time to grow. So if they are planted too late in the year they won’t mature before the weather starts turning cold again. The optimal window for planting is April and May. That means that 26.5 million acres need to be planted in a 60 day time period. If it rains for 30 days, then that cuts the planting time in half. As many as one million acres need to be planted per day in Iowa to be successful.

NASS tracks how many acres of corn and soybeans have been planted. They also separately track how many acres have emerged and successfully germinated. Farmers are fraught with challenges. Maybe a farmer is lucky enough to get their planter out in the field and get seeds planted. But then if that is followed by two weeks without rain, the seeds may not germinate. Or if there is too much rain the seeds could get drowned out. So planting is important, but emergence is also important. The weekly NASS reports also track the quality of the crop (very poor to excellent). These data points are tracked from corn and soybeans, but also for hay, oats, and pasture.

Why does it matter?

A lot of farming is based on weather. That makes it a bit of a guessing game. The more information that can be collected, the less of a guessing game it is. One of the biggest reasons we want to track crop condition is to ensure we have an adequate food supply in the upcoming months. It has been a long time since the U.S. has faced any sort of food shortage, but in other parts of the world it can be a real and devastating problem. A drought and loss of one year of crops could lead to widespread famine and the fallout of that famine. Farmers in the U.S. and those who track the progress of those crops have developed a reliable system to hopefully prevent any sort of food shortage – even if severe weather were to hit.

The second reason we want data on crop conditions is to make the economy and market less volatile. Corn and soybean prices change year to year (and day to day) based on supply and demand. The prices are set based on what customers are willing to pay. If there is a high supply and low demand, the price might be very low. If there is a low supply and a high demand, the price might be very high. By knowing what the condition of the crop is early in the planting season there are some guesses, assumptions, and estimations that can be made about what the harvest will be like and what the supply will be like. We can’t always know what the demand will be, but if we know approximately what the supply will be that can help us reduce the volatility and fluctuations of the price.

The third reason that people want to know the condition of crops is to have more security in investments. Farmers and investors can buy and sell crops on the futures market. This means that a farmer might sell their 2021 crop in March before it is planted and long before it is harvested. A farmer would know what costs they would incur during the process. They could negotiate a futures contract that would ensure they cover their costs and make money from their crop. This mitigates risk. However, if the price of the cash market went up, they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of that. That’s where investors come in. They assume the risk and hope that the cash market price goes up. That would allow for them to make money. It is a bit of a game of chance. But with the right information, like the condition of the crop at various stages throughout the growing season, farmers and investors can make some good guesses and hopefully both come out ahead.

The fourth reason that we want to know the condition of crops is because of that ripple effect mentioned earlier. Consider John Deere and other implement dealers. It can take them months to build a new tractor start to finish. And they have to source all of the parts from various suppliers around the world. The whole process could in theory take a year or more if you consider taking the raw ingredient (mining iron ore) to steel (processing the ore into steel) to a finished tractor (shaping parts, assembly, etc.). A limited number of tractors can be built each year with limited workers, limited factories, and limited time. Now consider the farmer. They might only buy a new tractor if they have had a good growing season and were able to sell their crop for a significant profit. (New tractors might cost $500K or more.) Knowing that farmers will only buy tractors when the conditions are good, John Deere can watch the crop report and have a better idea of how many tractors they should build in a given year. The people and businesses that supply the parts for John Deere can have a better idea of how many widgets they should build in a given year. The people and businesses who supply the raw ingredients can have a better idea of how much iron ore or other raw material might be needed.

So, the crop report might only be a brief story on the evening news. But its importance to a stable food supply and economy cannot be understated. For this year (2021) as of May 24, things are looking pretty good. Planting of Iowa’s expected corn crop is nearly complete at 97%, two weeks ahead of the 5-year average. Corn emergence has reached 75%, five days ahead of normal. Seventy-eight percent of the crop is in good or excellent condition with only 1% in poor condition. Eighty-nine percent of the expected soybean crop has been planted, 15 days ahead of the 5-year average. Soybean emergence has hit 53%, nine days ahead. Topsoil soil moisture levels are at 82% adequate or surplus. Subsoil soil moisture is 60% adequate or surplus.

Stay tuned (or check back in) for the fall as the crop reports will continue to monitor the quality of the harvest. More challenges are in store there as farmers need to dry the grain in the field to the right moisture level, avoid fall rains that might get combines stuck in the field, and avoid mold, wind, or other issues that might damage the crop that they’ve toiled to grow.


Farmers Like to Try Growing New Crops

I recently ordered a drink at my local smoothie place and it had hemp seed protein powder in it. That made me curious about the agricultural crop of hemp. I was confused and thought others might misunderstand it as well. Here’s what I learned.

Isn’t it just marijuana?

No, hemp is most notably grown for use as a fiber crop. The long stalks have stringy interiors that can be processed into things like cloth and rope. Most natural fibers that we use for things like clothing come from cotton (a plant) or wool from sheep (an animal). Bamboo has become a popular alternative fiber crop. But cotton and bamboo can’t be grown in the Iowa climate. Sheep are raised in Iowa and while wool has a lot of advantages as a fiber, wool and sheep aren’t as popular as their plant alternatives. Corn and soybeans can also be used to make fibers and cloth, but they take more processing and therefore can be more expensive. Hemp can be grow in the Iowa climate and offers an interesting option for Iowa farmers to get into the fiber industry. But hemp offers a lot of other options too and can be raised as feed ingredient for livestock or for other purposes.

When you hear the word “hemp,” I know for many marijuana is the first thing that crosses your mind. Hemp and marijuana do come from the same cannabis genus. However, hemp has a Delta-9 THC of less than 0.3%, and marijuana has a THC level of more than 0.3%. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that creates euphoric effects when consumed. The 0.3% of THC in hemp is so low that it would take 2,500 lbs. of the commodity to equal the same amount of THC in one joint typically used recreationally. So there is no chance anyone will be able to use hemp as a recreational drug.

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Is it legal?

In 2014, the Farm Bill passed, allowing pilot programs and research to start on the hemp commodity. This farm bill started the discussion on whether hemp farming would continue in the United States and if it was beneficial to everyone.

Four years later, the Hemp Act of 2018 passed. This act moved hemp, with a THC concentration of less than 0.3%, from a controlled substance category to an agricultural commodity. In addition to how hemp was categorized, the act also introduced that hemp producers could receive federal crop insurance. Each state would oversee its laws regarding the production of hemp.

Specifically, the Iowa law allows the production, processing and marketing of hemp products. It does not include using marijuana recreationally, smoking hemp and using or selling hemp for animals.

To farm hemp in Iowa, farmers must first obtain a hemp license. The licensing requires applicants to submit official fingerprints, pass a background check, and have no drug-related felony for the previous ten years. Once the farmer is adequately licensed, they must grow 40 acres or less of hemp and record all farmed hemp. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers a number of different resources for farmers interested in trying to grow this fiber crop.

Farming hemp is not for everyone. Seeds are germinated in a greenhouse and the seedlings have to be transplanted into fields – either by hand or with small scale equipment. Some farmers are refurbishing old machinery previously used to plant things like strawberries to plant the seedlings. Hemp allows for interested farmers to start small and scale up as they become familiar with the agronomics of unfamiliar crop.

Why farm hemp?

Washington Post

Food, building supplies, textiles and oils are just a few of the thousands of different uses from hemp. Hemp is a versatile commodity; the plant’s seeds, stalks, roots, leaves and plant can all be used in one way or another. I personally have tried hemp seed protein in my smoothies. It was a plant-based alternative to my typical whey protein that I purchased because it was cheaper. New products like this are now on the market because of the growing industry. With these new products coming on the market, hemp farming is a place for farmers to invest their money and a portion of their land.

This up-and-coming specialty crop can be grown as either a fiber, grain or for CBD. Out of these niches, CBD or cannabidiol has the most profit potential. CBD is a non-intoxicating phytochemical that has potential health benefits for things like pain, nausea, addiction, and depression. Farmers can usually profit around $1,000 per acre of corn. In contrast, hemp farmers can gain up to $40,000 per acre when their hemp is grown specifically for CBD.

Hemp can be grown in many different regions and climates, making it very easy to grow. However, hemp does prefer certain soils over others. Aerated and loose loam soil can best produce hemp. This kind of soil has mainly sand and silt with a little bit of clay and has enough room for oxygen to flow through the soil. Iowa offers ideal soils.

Hemp also has a short growing season. This fast-growing season means that farmers who live in cooler climates (like Iowa) can fit hemp into their season when they might not be able to with other crops. Farmers with warmer climates may have multiple harvests in one year.

Because hemp only became legal to grow in 2014 and 2018, everyone is still learning how to farm it. There are always opportunities and challenges in growing new crops and some Iowa farmers are embracing this new crop.


We Can’t ‘Goat’ Enough of these Animals: Dairy Goat Breeds

Long before goat yoga, goats singing Silent Night and Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer, or goats in pajamas, goats were already a farm favorite throughout the world. Some of the oldest domesticated goats date back to around 10,000 years ago. Today, there are more than one billion goats worldwide.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed how goats became popular throughout history, the top producing countries, how goats are being used in sustainability efforts, and more. Today, we’re going to dive into some of the purposes for specific breeds of goats. Just like cattle, goats can be bred for specific reasons – dairy, meat, and fiber. Let’s look at dairy goats!

Dairy Goat Industry in Iowa

Photo by Mark Stebnicki from Pexels

Did you know Iowa is ranked third in the country in dairy goat production – only behind Wisconsin and California. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are 214 licensed dairy goat herds and 32,000 milking does (female goats) in Iowa. Despite our size, Iowa’s dairy goats are still a relatively small market. You can usually find producers goat cheese, milk, yogurt and other products available at local farmers markets and in local grocery stores throughout Iowa.

Goat Milk Products

Cow’s milk is the preferred milk in the U.S. but for much of the world, goat milk is the primary milk source for humans. One of the reasons goats are preferred over cattle is the small size of the animal and the amount of land required to raise them.

Goat milk can be fresh, raw or pasteurized, condensed, or dried. It has many of the same nutritional attributes as cow’s milk. Many grocery stores and specialty shops offer gourmet cheese and ice creams made of goat milk, as well as personal products such as soaps and lotions.

Goat milk is typically whiter than whole cow milk. The same goes for butter and cheese, however they may be colored during processing. Goat milk has distinct characteristics when compared to cow’s milk. The fat globules are smaller than those in cow milk, and the curd is softer and smaller which may make digestion easier. For some who are allergic to cow’s milk, oftentimes they’re able to digest goat milk with no problems.

Goat Breeds

There are eight different recognized breeds of dairy goats. In general, the lactation period for dairy goats averages 284 days. In the time after they give birth and after the kid is weaned, the milk can be collected for human consumption.


Source: American Dairy Goat Association

The French-Alpine goat originated in the Alps. They were brought to the United States from France and were selected for uniformity, size, and production. The Alpine goat is known for being a hardier type. It’s an adaptable animal that thrives in any climate while also maintaining good health and excellent production. Alpines come in many different colors and color combinations. They may come in patterns ranging from pure white through shades of gray, brown, black, red, and other color combinations. Their hair is generally short. The does, or females, are typically at least 30 inches tall and weigh around 135 lbs. while bucks, or males, are usually 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs.


Source: American Dairy Goat Association

It’s believed that this breed descended from Spanish goats brought by early settlers to California. The breed was further developed in the United States and is known for its calm, loveable nature. It thrives in a variety of climates and conditions. The distinctive feature of the LaMancha is the very short ears. Does (females) are at least 28 inches tall and weigh 130 lbs. while the bucks (males) are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 160 lbs. Their hair is short, fine, and glossy. The LaMancha produces a high-quality milk with high butterfat and protein over a long period of time.

Nigerian Dwarf

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

The Nigerian Dwarf is a miniature goat of West African origin. Dwarf goats come in many different colors; however the main colors are black, chocolate, and gold. Their coat is soft, with short to medium hair. These are a loveable and gentle breed of goats, in fact, some are kept as pets and are used frequently as 4-H and FFA student projects. Nigerian Dwarf does are at least 17 inches tall and may be no taller than 22.5 inches. Bucks are at least 17 inches tall and no taller than 23.5 inches. The average weight is around 75 lbs. They are the only miniature dairy goat breed registered by the American Dairy Goat Association. Though small, this breed of goat produces a proportionate quantity of milk with high butterfat. 


Source: American Dairy Goat Association

This breed is also known for its high butterfat and protein content of its milk. The Nubian’s appearance is distinctive in its facial composition, known for its Roman nose. The ears also are pendulous and hang down. Their hair is short, fine, and glossy, and may be any color – solid or patterned. They tend to be a little more stubborn than other goat breeds and have a distinctive sound. The does are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 135 lbs., while the bucks are at least 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs. Nubian’s originated in England as a cross between the Old English Milch Goat and the Zariby and Nubian bucks imported from India, Russia, and Egypt. Due to their Middle Eastern heritage, these goats can live in very hot climates and have a longer breeding season than other dairy goats.


Source: American Dairy Goat Association

Loosely translated, Oberhasli means ‘highlander.’ While still relatively rare in the U.S., this breed comes from the district of the Canton of Berne in Switzerland. Their color is described as bay, ranging from light to a deep red bay with black markings. The does may also be solid black. They have short, erect ears. The does are typically at least 28 inches tall and weigh 120 lbs. The bucks are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 150 lbs. They have a calm disposition.


Source: American Dairy Goat Association

This breed of goat is a favorite among commercial dairies due to its high milk production and calm temperament. They originated in the Saanen valley in the south of the Canton Berne, Switzerland. In the early 1900s, several hundred Saanens were imported into the U.S. from Switzerland. They are heavy producers of milk and usually yield 3-4 percent milk fat. The breed is better suited for cooler, shaded conditions and is sensitive to excessive sunlight. They are distinguished by solid white or light cream-colored hair. Their ears are erect. The does are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 135 lbs. while the bucks are at least 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs. 


Source: American Dairy Goat Association

This is another breed that originated in Switzerland and come from the Saanen breed. They may be any color or combination of colors except for white or light cream. Their hair is short and their ears are erect. They are known for their high milk production and calm temperament. The does are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 135 lbs. while the bucks are at least 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs. Since they are derived from the Saanen breed, they are very similar, however they are better able to withstand hotter climates and sunny conditions.


Source: American Dairy Goat Association

Toggenburgs were among the first purebred dairy goats to be imported into the U.S. and registered. They are a breed of goat named after the region in Switzerland where the breed originated, the Toggenburg Valley. They are known as being the oldest dairy goat breed. Toggenburgs are medium in size, moderate in production, and have relatively low butterfat content. Their hair color is solid, varying from light fawn to dark chocolate with white or cream markings. Some does may also be black with white or cream markings. The does are at least 26 inches tall and weigh 120 lbs. while the bucks are at least 28 inches tall and weigh 150 lbs.

No matter the breed, dairy goats are well known for their milk production. To see a comparison between the various breeds, the American Dairy Goat Association has created a breed averages chart you can review.

Interested in becoming a dairy goat farmer? The ADGA has some tips on how to get started.

That’s all we’ve ‘goat’ on dairy goats. Next up will be breeds of meat goats.



Cheese, Yogurt, Ice Cream – Iowa’s Dairy Goat Ranking

Iowa Dairy Goat Survey

Goat Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Fun Goat Facts