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Ackley farmer keeps animals on the move to protect the land

August 26, 2018

ACKLEY, Iowa (AP) — Good farming shouldn’t smell, according to Brian Wosepka, a farmer at Fockler Creek Farm.

Wosepka has worked out a method of raising livestock in a microbial balanced environment by keeping his animals on the move to protect the land.

“Some farmers that do what we do call themselves microbe farmers,” Wosepka said. “They are really at the heart of what we’re going.”

Wosepka tries to provide the same kind of natural health for his livestock and land.

“We feel like that’s going to be the way to make our farm the most sustainable, both financially and environmentally,” he said. “It’s about creating that terrain where the good bacteria can out-compete the bad bacteria and they keep each other in check.”

The conventional livestock industry has animals sitting around in their own manure all day, and they require pharmaceuticals and antibiotics, Wosepka said.

“It’s no wonder we’re creating all these antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria,” he said.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports that Wosepka keeps his animals in an environment that resembles a zoo more than a traditional farm.

His cows can be found on top of a hill eating grass together surrounded by a small forest.

“That’s how our soils here in the Midwest were built,” Wosepka said. “Under the cover of prairie with bison doing the same thing.”

He first got interested in sustainable farming at Iowa State University, where he graduated two years ago.

“We were already starting to get interested here on our farm in doing some different types of agriculture,” Wosepka said.

After taking an agriculture entrepreneurship class that required him to create a business plan, Wosepka realized he could make his dream a reality.

“It was just sort of a hypothetical thing,” Wosepka said. That class led him to Polyface Farms in Virginia. He realized he could use his family farm to do the same thing.

He helped build an aquaponics greenhouse and started to look into sustainable farming techniques.

Wosepka and his wife, Amelia, live with his parents on their farm. He’s taken his ideas for a sustainable farming and applied them to 40 acres. The rest is rented out for produce.

Wosepka raises his chicken in a deep bedded brooder.

“They’re in there with heat lamps and more of a controlled environment,” he said.

For 21 days the chickens live indoors before heading out to pasture in movable pens called chicken tractors.

“We butcher them at about seven weeks. For the remainder of the time they’re getting moved daily,” Wosepka said.

Chicken tractors are 10-foot-by-12-foot floorless field shelters that hold about 75 birds each.

So far predators haven’t been a problem.

“I think part of that is that they are moved every single day,” he said. “So it doesn’t give predators a chance to really figure out how to get in there.”

His cows are grass-fed and are raised to mob graze.

“You’re basically recreating what the buffalo would’ve done on the prairie. They were mobbed up. They were mowing and they were moving,” Wosepka said. “It’s just a matter of using new technologies.”

Wosepka is using old methods with modern conveniences like microchip electric fencing and polygrade electric fence wire.

“It’s using the same principles that have worked since the beginning of time,” he said. “It’s just a matter of harnessing them and using them in an agricultural system.”

His hog paddocks are arranged along the farm’s creek.

“We have 23 pigs, and they’re moving through about two and half acres that are split up into 10 paddocks,” Wosepka said. “We move them based on two criteria: One is time, and one is how much feed they’ve gone through.”

If the pigs stay in the same place for more than 10 days they’re impacting the land too much, Wosepka said.

The pigs are one paddock away from going back to their original holding area, which has become overgrown with the seeds of their feed. Tomato plants and corn have grown up with the grass in a lush ecosystem.

He’s using the impact of the animals to drive that biomass into the ground, Wosepka said. “That’s what feeds that soil biology, and that’s what creates more organic matter.”

Respecting the land is important to Wosepka.

“It’s important that consumers become more conscientious about the type of farming practices used to produce their food,” he said. “That’s something that affects the whole of society. A society that disrespects their soils, that disrespects their farm ground is not a society that’s going to be around a long time.”

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

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