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Pasturing Oxbows: Optimizing Benefits to the Farm, Water and Wildlife

By Elizabeth Ripley

 Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and the Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual field day on pasturing oxbows, Thursday, Jan. 18, at 1 p.m. Central time. Join for a live discussion with Sara McMillan, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, and Karen Wilke, associate director of Freshwater at the Nature Conservancy.

Iowa Learning Farms is a conservation program with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

The virtual field day will explore an oxbow in Kossuth County, including how it naturally formed and the restoration process to date. Located within an actively used pasture, the restoration process took into consideration factors like livestock safely accessing the water. These pastured oxbows help improve overall forage production by providing a place for water to collect and reduce flooding within the pasture. Additionally, by providing a water source out of the stream, these systems improve water quality through the reduction of direct contributions of bacteria from livestock in the stream and the maintenance of streambanks that help retain sediment and phosphorus.

“When we are designing these pastured oxbows, we want to be sure that we are doing a seeding plan that will be successful for livestock and the wetland,” noted Wilke. “We’re looking for something quick to establish and stabilize those banks and that is hardy as well. When possible, we also use natives as they can be as nutritious and palatable to livestock as other types of pasture grasses.”

Virtual field day access instructions

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1 p.m. CT on Jan. 18,

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive will be available at

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit. Information about how to apply to receive the CEU (if approved) will be provided at the end of the event.

About Iowa Learning Farms

Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable. Partners of Iowa Learning Farms include the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319) and GROWMARK Inc.

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